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B. M.KAMDAfc 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 

( The curtain-raiser to the Sino-lndian War of 1962 ) 


h y 

Brigadier J. P. DALVI (Retired) 
VfDtAJf AR\tr 


FOREWORD 

by 

FRANK MORAES 


Thacker & Company Limited 
Bombay 


TOKO 



1st Published March 1969 


Copyright : Brig. J. P. DALVI ( Retired ) 


Price Rs. 30/- 
Sh. 45/- 
$ 6.00 


Published by Dmlat Salrikar, 
iKWibay-l and printed by B, B. 


forTtatlc' iO>. Ltd., 18/20, Rampart Row, 
Nadkaml, at Thackers’s Press, Borabay-1 1BC. 



DEDICATED TO 

THE MEMORY OF ALL RANKS OF 7 INFANTRY BRIGADE 
. WHO LAID DOWN THEIR LIVES FOR INDIA IN 
THE BATTLE OF THE NAMKA CHU 


IN OCTOBER 1962. 



“Men who had fallen from high command, whether for 
cause or as scapegoats . . . wrote their private justifications. As 
each account appeared, inevitably shifting responsibility or 
blame to someone else , another was provoked. Private feuds 
became public , public controversies expanded. Men who 
would otherwise have remained mute were stung to publish 
. . . Books proliferated. Whole schools of partisans . . . 
produced libraries of controversy . Through this forest of 
special pleading the historian gropes his way, trying to recapture 
the truth of past events and find out what really happened” . 

Mrs. Barbara Tuchman 
“The Guns Of August.” 


Tlus book is one more tree in the inevitable 
lc ^ S 10 ™ around the Indian humiliation 

of 1962. 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 


No serving officer has helped me in any way in the 
preparation of this book. 

I am indebted to some civilian friends who helped 
me in producing this work, but who desire to remain 
anonymous. 

My debt to my school friend, Lt.-Col. C. L. 
(Larry) Proudfoot (Retd.) is incalculable. No formal 
acknowledgement can convey my gratitude for his 
comprehensive assistance at every stage of the prepara- 
tion and production of this book. I am also grateful 
for the kind and generous hospitality extended to me 
by Connie and Larry Proudfoot during my prolonged 
visits to Bombay in connection with the publication of 
the book. 

I wish to thank my brother, Colonel Jai Dalvi 
(Retd.), for his criticisms, constructive suggestions and 
for helping me in the search for background material. 

I am indebted to the following authors for back- 
ground material and permission to quote from books 
of their copyright. Appropriate acknowledgement has 
been made in the text. I apologise in any case where 
such permission or acknowledgement has been over- 
looked. 

1. The Bat lie of KEF A by G. S. Bhargava — 
Allied Publishers. 

2.. China hmwks. India edited, by V. b. Karalk- 
Allied Publishers. 

3. After Nehru Who? by Welles Hangen — Rupert 

Hart Davis. 

4. Chinese Invasion of NEFA by Major S. R. 
Johori - Himalaya Publications. 

5. Guilty Men of 1962 by D. R. Mankekar — Tulsi 
Shah Enterprises. 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 


6. Forging The Shield by Lt.-Gen. P. S. Bhagat, 
V.C. - The Statesmen Press. 

7. Cassino - Portrait of a Battle by F. Majdalany 
-Longman Green & Co. 

8. The Desert Generals by Corelli Barnett -The 
Viking Press. 

9. “ Auchinleck by John Connell - Cassell & Co. 
Ltd. 

10. “The Donkeys” by Allen Clark - William 
Morrow & Co. 

11. The Guns of August by Mrs. Barbara Tuchman 
-The MacMillan Co. of New York. 

12. A History of Militarism by Alfred Vagts- 
Meridian Books Inc. 

13. The Untold Story by Lt.-Gen. B. M. Kaul- 
Allied Publishers. 

14. The Statesman Supplement “Black November” 
of 20th November 1967. 

15. Statement by the Hon’ble Y. B. Chavan, 
Defence Minister of the Union Cabinet of 
India, to the Lok Sabha, on 3rd September 
1963. 

16. “Lost Victories ” by Field Marshal Eric 
von Manstein — Henry Regnery Company, 
Chicago, U.S.A. 

Finally, 1 owe a debt to Mr. Derek Pinto who 
made the drawings from my clumsy memory sketches. 



FOREWORD 


I have had occasion to read a number of books and 
other material on the Indian military debacle of 
October-November 1962 when the Chinese inflicted a 
humiliating reverse on our armed forces in NEFA and 
along the Himalayan border. These contributions 
have come from various sources, from soldiers, some 
of whom have participated in the fighting in various 
capacities, from bureaucrats, military correspondents, 
journalists and commentators. 

Brigadier John Dalvi’s account not only of the 
disastrous thirty days conflict but of the policies and 
attitudes of mind which led to it, as also of the lessons 
to be drawn from that tragic confrontation gives this 
book an unusual dimension. The author had the 
advantage of being a participant in the fighting when 
on the morning of 20th October 1962 massed Chinese 
artillery opened up a heavy concentration on the weak 
Indian garrison in a narrow sector of the Namka Ghu 
valley of Kameng Frontier Division in the North-East 
Frontier Agency (NEFA). Dalvi was taken prisoner 
and held in captivity for seven months during which 
as he writes poignantly, “a wave of bitter shame” for 
this country overwhelmed him. 

This book is partly the result of those seven months 
of brooding and thinking. It is remarkable not only 
for its sensitive writing but for its thinking in depth. 
No soldier who passed through that searing experience, 
however generous his nature, could be impervious to a 
deep embitterment of spirit and feeling. It is to Dalvi’s 
credit that he does not allow this embitterment to 
cloud his judgement and thought. 

_ He does not, however, spare those whom he 
believes were the guilty men. But neither his assessment 
of them nor Ills conclusions have the enveloping sweep 
of a flat vindictive indictment. Dalvi had evidently 



TOREWORD 


thought deeply over the military dangers inherent in 
the political policies of our omniscient know-alls in 
New Delhi long before the confrontation came. There 
is a dramatic but impressive picture of General 
Lentaigne, then commandant of the Defence Services 
Staff College in Wellington, boldly challenging a very 
senior official of the External Affairs Ministry who had 
given a talk on Sino-Tibetan relations justifying the 
policy of China’s subjugation of Tibet. Lentaigne 
warned the complacent speaker - this was early in 
1951 - of the military threat to India by the Chinese 
presence in Tibet. 

Lentaigne, of course, was ignored, as were some 
others, by the all-seeing Pooh Bahs of New Dcllii. 
Retribution came eleven years later. It is the great 
merit of Dalvi’s book that while he evidently has 
sufficient dynamite to blow some political and military 
reputations sky-high, he refrains from doing so merely 
for the heck of doing so. 

None-the-less his book throws new light on certain 
decisive periods notably on the vague borderland of 
September-October 1962. His objects and objectives 
arc not so much concerned with the past as with the 
future. Major mistakes, like minor diseases, arc often 
preventible. If so, why are they not prevented ? 

This is the question which Dalvi poses and asks. 
He is deeply concerned that these mistakes, exposed 
and analysed, should not be repeated, for it is obvious 
that he realises the basic reason why history repeats 
itself. History repeats itself because men repeat their 


J confess that I ha\ c never read an account of those 
tragic thirty days that has so stirred me eerebally or 
moved me so emotionally. I think it is because Dalvi’s 
writing is an exercise in restraint, in the way he unfolds 
the evidence not merely to establish his case, but, going 
further to suggest ways and means of improving our 
apparatus for the higher direction of war 



FOREWORD XI 

What is the use of the past if it has no lessons for 
the future? Experience, as Oscar Wilde observed, is 
the name men give to their mistakes. 

Wise men and wise nations profit by their mistakes. 
Humility is the beginning of wisdom for progress starts 
with the thought that perhaps one might oneself be 
mistaken. I like Dalvi’s courage, his conviction, his 
deep understanding of what he is writing about, his 
openness of mind. That is why I would do more than 
recommend this book. I would implore every Indian 
capable of arriving at an independent decision, to 
read it. 


FRANK MORAES 


New Delhi, 25th March, 1969. 



PREFACE 


This book was born in a Prisoner of War Camp in 
Tibet on a cold bleak night. 

On the night of 21st November 1962, X was woken 
up by the Chinese Major in charge of my solitary 
confinement with shouts of ‘good news - good news’. 
He told me that the Sino-Indian War was over and 
that the Chinese Government had decided to withdraw 
from all the areas which they had overrun, in their 
lightning campaign. When I asked the reason for 
this decision he gave me this Peking inspired answer: 
“India and China have been friends for thousands of 
years and have never fought before. China does not 
want war. It is the reactionary (ric) Indian Govern- 
ment that was bent on war. So the Chinese counter- 
attacked in self-defence and liberated all our territories 
in NEFA and Ladakh, in just one month. Now we 
have decided to go back as we do not want to settle 
the border problem by force. We have proved that 
you are no match for mighty China”. He concluded 
with this supercilious and patronising remark: “We 
hope that the Indian Government will now see sense 
and come to the conference table at once so that 
1,200 million Chinese and Indians can get on with 
their national development plans and halt Western 
Imperialism”. f 

This kindergarten homily was, and remains, the 
most humiliating moment of my 7-month captivity and 
indeed of my life. That night I experienced a wave of 
bitter shame for my country. In my grief I took a 
solemn vow that one day I would tell the truth about 
how we let ourselves reach such a sorry pass. With 
time heavy on my hands, as I had no radio, newspapers 
or books, I brooded over India’s humiliation and the 
fate of my command. 

I was repatriated, along with all the other officers 
of field rank, on 4th May 1963. We reached Barrack- 



XIV 


PREFACE 


pore, the Military Airport at Calcutta at mid-day but 
could not land there and were diverted to Dum Dum. 

We deplaned and were greeted with correct 
military protocol, tinged with a chill reserve. It was 
only later that I found out that we had to clear ourselves 
of the charge of having been brainwashed — a strange 
charge from a Government which had itself been brain- 
washed into championing China’s cause for more than 
a decade. 

Without a doubt the prisoners had been declared 
outcasts. Apparently we should have atoned for the 

E ast national sins of omission and commission with our 
ves. Our repatriation was embarrasing as the national 
spotlight had again been focused on the Sino-Indian 
Conflict. 


From the tarmac we were herded straight to the 
Customs enclosure where a sprightly team of appraisers 
had assembled to ‘examine’ our luggage. They had 
been told that some Indians had arrived from Hong 
Kong and were waiting to confiscate transistors and 
opium! I knew then that there had been no material 
change in India and we were in the same old groove. 

After a cursory and stereotyped de-briefing at 
Ranchi, I was ordered to meet the Chief of Army Staff, 
Gen. J. N. Chaudhuri at Delhi on 15th May. He 
asked me to write a report for the personal information 
of the Defence Minister and himself. The aim was, in 
Gen. Chaudhuri’s words: “To teach ourselves how not 
to hand over a brigade on a plate to the Chinese in 
future”. He added that we had become the laughing 
stock of even countries like . . . and ... (I hesitate 
to name these countries!) 


I welcomed the opportunity afforded by the Chief’s 
instruction for a personal report as this would give me 
a chance to collect my thoughts. The basic facts had 
been branded into my memory. To make doubly sure, 
1 had many sessions with Lt.-Col. Rikli, Commanding 
Officer of 2 Rajputs and Lt.-Col. B. S. Ahluwalia, 



PREFACE 


XV 


Commanding Officer of the 1/9 Gorkhas, Major R. O. 
Kharbanda and Captain T. K. Gupta of my Staff. 
We recounted, cross-checked and authenticated the 
facts which form the basis for tins book. Rankling at 
our unfriendly reception and the many garbled versions 
I heard from friends, I wrote a forthright account which 
I handed over to the Chief personally. I do not know 
the fate of this report as X was never again asked to 
discuss or explain it. It may have touched some 
sensitive nerves. 

It was soon apparent that the Army had become 
the centre of much controversy and that the blame for 
the 1962 fiasco had been cunningly shifted to its alleged 
‘shortcomings’. What was more alarming were the 
extravagant claims made by some senior Army Officers, 
who attained eminence only after the 1962 reshuffles, 
as to how brilliantly they would have handled the 
situation and defied the authority of Nehru, Mcnon 
and Kaul. This attitude made me despair of whether 
my countrymen and colleagues would ever learn any 
lessons from India’s first attempt at conducting a 
modem war and strengthened my resolution to tell my 
story. 

1962 was a National Failure of which every Indian 
is guilty. It was a failure in the Higher Direction of 
War, a failure of the Opposition, a failure of the 
General . Staff (myself included); it was a failure of 
Responsible Public Opinion and the Press. For the 
Government. of Indira, it vwa a. Himalayan %\wndct tit 
all levels. 

* * * 

The people of India want to know the truth but 
have been denied it on the dubious grounds of national 
security. The result has been an unhealthy amalgam 
of inuendo, mythology, conjecture, outright calumny 
and sustained efforts to confuse and conceal the truth. 
Even the truncated ‘NEFA’ Enquiry has been withheld 
except for a few paraphrased extracts read out to the 



XVI 


PREFACE 


Lok Sabha on 2nd September 1963. For some un- 
disclosed reason, I was not asked to give evidence 
before this body nor (to the best of my knowledge) 
were my repatriated Commanding Officers. 

It is thus vitally necessary to trace, without rancour 
and without malice, the overall causes which resulted 
in the reverses and which so seriously affected India’s 
honour. Some of the things that happened in 1962 
must never be allowed to happen again. There is a 
school of thought which advocates a moratorium on the 
NEFA Affair on the grounds that such ‘patriotic 
reticence’ is desirable in the context of tlic continuing 
Chinese (and Pakistani) military' threats. I do not 
think that this theory is tenable. The main protagonists 
of this line played a part in the tragic drama, or belonged 
to the political party which provided the national 
leadership and their plea for silence does not spring 
entirely from a sense of patriotism. 

There are others, mostly barren politicians, who 
use the Nehru legend to buttress their failures, or in- 
veterate hero-worsbippers, who express irritation at any 
adverse reference to Mr. Nehru’s long spell as the 
Prime Minister of India. As was said of Lord Chatham, 
the British Prime Minister, ‘His country men were so 
conscious of what they owed him that they did not 
want to hear about bis faults’. But it is impossible to 
narrate a failure, which historically marked the end of 
the Nehru saga, without critical, often harsh comments 
on the principle dramatis personae who held high office 
and who were revered by the people. The magnitude 
of our defeat could not have been wrought without 
Himalayan Blunders at all levels. But this is not a 
J Accuse 

India has a near unbroken record of military 
iailurcs through the ages. Our peasantry has always 
iought gallantly; but it is an indisputable fact that 
seldom has this bravery been utilised to win battle- 
ie \ ictones and thus to attain our political objectives. 



PREFACE 


XVU 


due to inept political or military leadership, or both. 
Need we follow this tragic path interminably? 

It had fallen to my lot to be associated with the 
China problem for over 8 years from 1954 to 1962. 
I was first connected with the Higher Direction of War, 
in a modest capacity, as a Lt.-Coloncl in Military 
Operations Directorate. Later, as Brigadier-in- Charge 
of Administration of the troops on Ladakh, I saw, at 
first hand, what passed for ‘logistic support’. Finally 
as Commander of the key sector of Towang, Nordi- 
East Frontier Agency, I was involved in our so-called 
operational planning to defend our borders. The years 
of higher responsibility were complementary and gave 
me a personal insight into our National Policy as well 
as our half-hearted military' response to the Chinese 
challenge. 

I have tried to tell the story as I saw it unfold, 
over the years, to add to our knowledge. I have 
included the politico-military background only because 
this had a direct bearing on our performance in the 
military field, in 1962. 

This is a personal narrative - a narrative of wliat 
7 Infantry Brigade was ordered to do and what 
happened when they attempted to carry out those 
orders. In all humility I can claim that only I am 
in a position to explain many nagging questions that 
need explaining, facts that are necessary. 

The theme of the book is the steadfastness of the 
Indian soldier in the midst of political wavering and a 
military leadership which was influenced more by 
political than military considerations. The book records 
their valour, resolution and loyalty - qualities which are 
generally forgotten in the mass of political post-mortems 
which have been served up to the Indian people. 

This is a record of the destruction of a Brigade 
without a formal declaration of war — another central 
fact that is often overlooked - and which coloured the 
actions of all the principal participants. 



xv iii PREFACE 

I have made every effort not to view things in a 
retrospective light or with the clarity of hindsight. 
I have recorded experiences, ideas and feelings as they 
appeared at the time. I have tried to give an objective 
account of all that happened, of the people involved 
and of the decisions they took. My opinions as a 
participant in the climatic finale of September-October 
1962 must be subjective. The main essential is to 
know how the principal participants thought and 
reacted. 

As Lord Avon (Sir Anthony Eden) says in the 
Preface to his Memoirs, The Full Circle: “This book will 
expose many wounds; by doing so it may help to heal 
them”. 

By this book X express my undying gratitude to 
my Commanding Officers for their trust and loyalty; 
to the men of all classes and from all units under my 
command for their selfless devotion to duty; and to my 
staff whose dedication sustained me in those harrowing 
days. 

This book is the fulfilment of my promises to my 
friends, in all walks of life, to vindicate the reputation 
of the men I had the honour to command. I hope 
that I shall have discharged my responsibility to all 
those who gave their lives in the line of duty and 
whose sacrifice deserves a permanent, printed memorial. 


61, St. Patrick’s Town, 
Sholapur Road, 

Poona- 1 


I oP 


1st March 1969. 



CONTENTS 


Page 

Part I 

THE YEARS OF CREDULITY AND 
NEGLIGENCE 

I. Introduction ... ... ... 1 

II. The Annexation of Tibet and India’s China 

Policy ... ... ... ... 6 

III. The Uneasy Lull, 1950/55 ... ... 18 

IV. The Twilight Years, 1955/59 ... ... 30 

V. The Army Mans The Border, 1959/60 ... 55 

VI. Half-Hearted Preparations, 1961 ... ... 76 

Part II 

THE FATEFUL YEAR - 1962 

VII. The Defence of The McMahon Line -The 

Battle Zone; Strategy Unrelated to Means; 
Operation ONKAR; Wishful Thinking ... 107 

VIII. The Line-Up On The Eve of Battle — 7th 

September 1962 — China Prepares for the Coup 
de Grace ; China’s Deception Plans; India Un- 
prepared for War ... ... ... 146 

Part III 

“ON TO THE NAMKA CHU” 

IX. China Crosses The McMahon Line - 8th 

September 1962 ... ... ... 165 

X. The Trap is Baited ... ... ... 184 

XI. “Evict The Chinese” ... ... ... 221 



XX 


CONTENTS 


Page 

XII. The Final Appreciation, 23rd/29th September 

1962 ... - - 231 

Part IV 

THE END OF MAKE-BELIEVE 

XIII. Nehru Takes Over -2nd October 1962 ... 245 

XIV. A Soldier Uninhibited .. --- 255 

XV. The Clash At Tseng Jong, 10th October 1962... 292 


Part V 

THE BATTLE AT THE 
NAMKA CHU RIVER 

XVI. “Defend Your Present Positions” ... ... 307 

XVII. Feverish Activity ... ... ... 314 

XVIII. Occupation and Build-Up of Tsangle ... 325 

XIX. The Blinkered Command ... ... 330 

XX. The Vain Fight For Decisions ... ... 336 

XXI. 7 Brigade Without Higher Leadership ... 344 

XXII. The Ethics of Resigning a Field Command ... 357 

XXIII. The Trap Is Set ... ... ... 360 

XXIV. The Day of Reckoning, 20th October 1962 ... 364 

XXV. Captive of The Chinese Army ... 381 


Part VI 

THE REASON IVHY 

XXVI. Faulty Higher Direction of War - The Ministry 
of Defence; The Chiefs of Staff Committee; 

The Cabinet Secretariat (Military Wing) ; The 
Chief of Army Staff; Army Headquarters; 

The Penalty for Hustling ... ... 397 



CONTENTS 


XXI 


Page 

XXVII. India's Defence Ministers from 1947 to 1962 400 


EPILOGUE 

XXVIII. The Political and Economic Aftermath ... 478 

Appendix I. Letter from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to 
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on the impli- 
cations of the Chinese occupation of Tibet 501 

Appendix II. Author’s Career and Credentials ... 499 


• SKETCHES 

Sketch I. Kameng Frontier Division of NEFA - the 
route from the Brahmaputra Valley to the 
McMahon Line ... ... opp. 109 

Sketch II. The Thagla Ridge-Namka Chu Valley Battle- 

zone and maintenance routes ... ... End 

Sketch III. The Massive Chinese Assaults on 20th October 

1962 against 7 Brigade ... ... End 



ERRATA 


Serial Page 

Line 


1 . 

24 

10 

for ‘vitiates* read ‘vitiate’ 

2. 

63 

4 

for ‘1962* read ‘1967’ 

3. 

70 

3 

for ‘These’ read ‘The’ 

4. 

75 

14/15 

for ‘make big play’ read ‘make a big play’ 

5. 

84 

37 

for ‘revert to first’ read ‘revert to the first’ 

6. 

99 

25 

for ‘Knitted-up’ read *kitted-up’ 

7. 

122 

26 

for ‘petrol pumps’ read ‘petrol dumps’ 

8. 

219 

26 

for ‘1.00 a.m.’ read ‘1.00 p.m.’ 

9. 

238 

13 

for ‘bulls’ read ‘bluffs’ 

10. 

257 

29 

for ‘flexible’ read ‘inflexible’ 

11. 

259 

33 

for ‘dust their hands’ read ‘dust his hands’ 

12. 

286 

16/17 

for ‘makes a war’ read ‘makes of war’ 

13. 

324 

17 

for ‘Viola’ read ‘Voila’ 

14. 

331 

18 

for ‘demolisation’ read ‘demoralisation’ 

15. 

339 

15 

for ‘orders’ read ‘order’ 

16. 

457 

16 

for ‘Military’ read ‘Ministry’ 

17. 

468 

25 

for ‘greed’ read ‘agreed’ 



Part I 


Credulous and Negligent 



Chapter I 


Introduction 

At 5 on the morning of 20th October 1962 massed 
Ghinese artillery opened up a heavy concentration on 
the weak Indian garrison, in a narrow sector of the 
Namka Ghu Valley, of Kameng Frontier Division, in 
the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). Massive 
infantry assaults followed, and within three hours the 
unequal contest was over. The route to the plains of 
Assam lay -wide open. The Chinese exploited their 
initial successes and advanced 160 miles into Indian 
territory down the southern slopes of the Himalayas, 
reaching the Brahmaputra Valley by 20th November. 
They swept aside the so-called impregnable defences 
at Sela Pass; Bomdilla was literally overrun; the 
monastery town of Towang fell without a fight. India’s 
panicky reaction included die scrambling ofill-equipped, 
ill-trained for mountain warfare and unacclimatised 
military formations from the Punjab -over 1,600 miles 
away. They were merely funnelled into the Chinese 
bag, as there were no pre-planned and prepared defended 
zones in depth. The Chinese were amazed at this 
grave military blunder, as they had assembled a huge 
army opposite NEFA (estimates vary between 30,000 
and 50,000) without alerting the Indian Government, 
much less provoking the Indian Army into undertaking 
the minimum necessary strategic counter-measures. 
The Chinese had lit the fuse on 8th September 1962 by 
intruding into the Thagla Ridge area; but this was not 
treated as a prelude to a full-scale invasion; it was 
dismissed as yet another minor border incident which 
could be “localised and dealt with firmly”. 

The NEFA Reverse, as this short war has since 
been named, rocked the political and military founda- 



2 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


tions of India and bred a defeatist mentality. The people 
lost faith in the higher leadership. 

Prior to the Chinese invasion the prevalent political 
and military thinking was that there would be no war 
with China. The Chinese were our friends, and the 
only combustible issue was the undemarcatcd Indo- 
Tibetan border. We accepted the possibility of some 
misunderstanding about the actual alignment of these 
remote areas, and were prepared for incursions and 
border clashes; but rejected the probability of a major 
military conflict. 

India was therefore taken by complete surprise 
politically, diplomatically and strategically. There was 
no overall political objective; no National Policy; no 
grand strategy and total unreadiness for military 
operations in the awesome Himalayan mountains, 
against a first-class land power. The Government had 
not prepared the nation for war. 

The initial reaction to the Chinese invasion and 
our reverses was one of shock, disbelief and indignation. 
India’s distinguished President, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan 
summed up the feeling of the nation succintly when he 
exclaimed, “We have been negligent and credulous”. 
From the highest constitutional authority in the country, 
this was unqualified censure against our political and 
military hierarchies. 

The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Jawaharlal 
Nehru expressed the view that the Chinese had 
treacherously stabbed India in the back. He was 
shocked and dismayed by the sudden, unforeseen 
developments. In a radio talk at that time, he said, 
“I am grieved at the setbacks to our troops that have 
occurred on the frontier, and the reverses wc have had. 
They were overwhelmed by vast numbers and big 
artillery, mountain guns and heavy' mortars which 
the Chinese have brought with them”. This was a 
courageous but sad admission of failure by the executive 
head of Government. 



INTRODUCTION 


3 


The Indian Defence Minister, Mr. Vengalil 
Krishnan Krishna Menon said, “The Chinese have 
very considerable superiority in numbers and fire-power. 
We have been heavily out-numbered and out- 
weaponed”. This was another admission of culpability 
by the Minister directly responsible for the defence 
of India. 

It was clear that the country and the Army found 
themselves in this predicament largely because of 
Government’s failure to anticipate the possibility of 
war with China. 

India lay prostrate, her foreign policy in disarray; 
her developing economy halted and her political and 
military leadership discredited. A wave of bewilder- 
ment and anger swept the country. Over the years, 
half-truths and rash promises had been made to reassure 
the Indian people that the country was prepared for a 
military showdown with China. Even at the height 
of the crisis, in September-October 1962, important 
personalities were issuing confident and bellicose state- 
ments and talking glibly of “evicting” the Chinese in 
one short, sharp engagement. 

When detailed news of the disasters percolated to 
the people, indignation mounted. The decisiveness and 
completeness of our defeat made it painfully clear that 
we were caught napping and had tried to bluff our way 
out of a crisis that was partly of our own making. 
Despite the relatively heavy military expenditure of 
the preceding years our men were ill-equipped, we had 
built no worthwhile road communications and had not 
reorganised and trained the Army for a war with China. 
The Army came in for a good deal of uninformed 
criticism and even ridicule. The magnificent traditional 
heroism of the Indian jawan was overlooked amidst 
the debris of mutual recrimination that followed our 
battlefield defeat. 

National indignation was accompanied by national 
despondency. There were reports of confusion and 



4 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


even chaos in the bolder state of Assam, which was 
threatened by the Chinese advance. Mr. Kuldip 
Nayar, the Press Officer to Mr. Lai Bahadur Shastn, 
the Home Minister in 1962, who had visited Assam in 
those black days, disclosed that there was utter con- 
fusion and demoralisation at Tezpur and a wild exodus. 
There were plans to blow up the installations at Tezpur 
airfield and the famous Digboi oilfields of Assam. .He 
reported complaints by the civil population against 
Government officials who allegedly bungled the evacua- 
tion of Tezpur. He heard that “suddenly one evening 
at about 8 p.m. an announcement was made over loud- 
speakers that the Government was no longer responsible 
for citizens’ lives and property”. The Deputy Com- 
missioner is reported to have fled after releasing 
prisoners, burning files and destroying currency notes 
from the local treasury. One shudders to think of 
what would have happened if the Chinese had entered 
the Assam Plains. Clearly the people were not prepared 
for war and its horrors. 

In the wake of our defeats many heads had to fall. 
Mr. Menon, the controversial Defence Minister resigned 
on 7th November, as a result of strong and implacable 
Parliamentary and Party wrath with ms stewardship of 
the Defence portfolio, during the critical years of 1957 
to 1962. . His mentor, Mr. Nehru tried desperately to 
retain him in the Government by designating him 
Minister for Defence Production, but this was unaccept- 
able to a furious and disgusted House. Mr. Nehru had 
to bow to the will of the people for the first time in his 
overlordship of India, a development that was to have 
far-reaching effects on the Indian political scene. 
Nehru’s supreme authority over the Indian people had 
been eroded by the errors and omissions of his China 
Policy. With a sure touch for survival at all costs, 
he sacrificed Mr. Menon. 

The Chief of Army Staff, General Pran Nath 
Thapar resigned on “grounds of health” - the hack- 



INTRODUCTION 


5 


neyed euphemism for what the British call “the bowler 
hat 1 ’. He was rewarded with the Ambassadorship to 
Afghanistan. Lt.-General B. M. Kaul, the Commander 
of the ill-conceived and ill-fated IV Corps, was com- 
pelled to seek premature retirement - a bitter pill for 
Mr. Nehru to swallow - as Kaul was widely believed 
to have been his proUgl and military confidant. 

There were many errant civil servants and military 
officers who had not achieved enough publicity to get 
involved in the post-mortems, and who went on to 
higher ranks. Time and superannuation have taken 
care of the others. 

The Chinese announced their intention to with- 
draw from the areas which they had occupied in thirty 
lightning days; and this gave India a chance to take 
stock of the political and economic damage. It was 
soon evident that the Chinese had dealt near-mortal 
blows to India’s international standing and had altered 
the national political scene. There were major inroads 
into our development plans and economic progress. 
India’s achievements over the past decade were to be 
nullified as a result of one short, sharp military campaign. 



Chapter II 


The Annexation of Tibet and India’s China Policy 

It is axiomatic that all international disputes which 
end in war have a historical background and the Sino- 
Indian-Tibctan problem was no exception. It was the 
function of Government and of the appropriate desk in 
the Ministry of External Affairs to constantly review the 
points of dispute with neighbouring countries, seeking 
to resolve them amicably if suitable opportunities 
present themselves, or can be created. Failing this the 
nation must be alerted for the possibility of war. In' 
action or wishful thinking are inexcusable. 

The Sino-Indian border dispute, which resulted in 
the clash of 1962, had its genesis in 1950, when China 
and India faced each other across a common frontier, 
for the first time in centuries. On 7th October 1950 
the Chinese Liberation Army entered Tibet, although 
China was preparing to take an active part in the Korean 
War. The Chinese move apparently took India by 
surprise. Tibet appealed for help but vve refused, and 
advised the Tibetans to negotiate a peaceful settlement. 

India was in a quandary. The entry of Chinese 
troops into Tibet had potentially ominous long-term 
consequences. Tibet had been a buffer zone, and had 
been vital to British India’s strategic defence. The 
abrupt removal of this buffer would alter the geo- 
political balance, and henceforth India would have a 
live northern border to reckon with. There was a 
definite possibility that Tibet could be used as a spring- 
board for aggression against India whenever this suited 
the Communist regime in China. Professor N. G. 
Ranga asked, in 1950, “Whether the Prime Minister 
could be indifferent to the gathering clouds of threats 
to our safety” . Mr. Shynma Prasad Mookerjee had a 



ANNEXATION OF TIBET AND INDIA’S CHINA POLICY 7 


premonition that India would one day have to fight 
China in Tibet. Many others expressed similar views 
and misgivings. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, popularly 
called India’s strong man, wanted a showdown and a 
tough line with China, but he did not live long enough 
to convert his remarkable vision into positive action. 
The only plausible excuse for direct intervention would 
have been to defend the rights which we had inherited 
from the British. Many years later, in 1954, Mr. Nehru 
revealed his mind when he said, “What right does India 
have to keep a part of its Army in Tibet, whether Tibet 
is independent or part of China?” 

Sardar K. M. Panikkar, India’s first Ambassador 
to China, is reported to have advised Mr. Nehru not 
to oppose the annexation of Tibet. There was con- 
siderable confused thinking and hair-splitting about 
China’s ‘suzerainty’ and ‘sovereignty’ over Tibet. It 
appeared that we were trying to find some face-saving 
device for the policy that we had decided to adopt, viz. 
to allow the Chinese to make Tibet a province of China. 
We exchanged a few diplomatic notes with China, and 
expressed our “concern, surprise and regret” at the 
Chinese move, and ended with the pious hope that 
China would respect Tibet’s autonomy and settle this 
problem peacefully. The Chinese promised to be good 
boys and we let the matter rest at that. 

At that time, except for a few far-sighted men, the 
rest of India failed to connect the happenings with their 
whv future arid destiny. In feet the average Indian, 
basking in his newly won freedom, could not pin-point 
Tibet on a world map. The officials of the Ministry 
of External Affairs were preoccupied with the establish- 
ment of diplomatic relations with the rest of the world; 
dealing with the diplomatic problem of steering our 
Kashmir case in the United Nations; and preparing 
briefs for Mr. Nehru’s increasing participation in world 
affairs. Mr. Nehru was then gradually consolidating 
his position as the elder statesman of the world, and was 



8 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


being looked upon as the leading Afro-Asian spokesman 
against colonialism. He was busy with Indonesia, and 
some African countries. The country’s legislators were 
busy working the Constitution which had been adopted 
on 26th January 1950. It was obvious that little 
thought had been spared for China and any possible 
hostile move by her. It seemed inconceivable that a 
nation that had itself suffered grievously at the hands of 
foreign powers, should start trouble for a neighbouring 
ex-colonial nation. 

Cold war considerations inevitably intruded into 
this problem. The Chinese justified their action by 
raising the bogey of Western plots to turn Tibet into an 
American base. On 25th October 1950 the New China 
News Agency announced that “The Chinese Army had 
been ordered to advance into Tibet to liberate the 
people of Tibet; to complete the unification of China; 
to prevent Imperialism from invading an inch of the territory 
of the Fatherland, and to safeguard and build up the 
frontier regions of the country”. 

One. school of Indian thought was that a clash over 
Tibet might trigger off a larger conflagration, as the 
Korean War was on and India could not be responsible 
for starting a third World War and therefore had to act 
with circumspection. Domestic politics also helped to 
confuse such Government thinking as there was. The 
Communists tended to whitewash China’s action, while 
the Rightists demanded a showdown. Mr. Nehru was 
placed in a most embarrassing position, as he was not 
prepared Tor an international issue so soon after gaining 
independence. He. had not anticipated any drastic 
Chinese move despite her oft-repeated claims to Tibet. 
The Chinese Communist Party had not concealed its 
intentions and aspirations with regard to Tibet, for 
as early as 1922 the Party had announced that it would 
liberate Tibet and unify her with the Motherland. On 
4th August 1950, General Uo Po-Chang said, “The 
Army must launch an attack on Tibet ... to enable 



ANNEXATION OF TIBET AND INDIA’S CHINA POLICY 9 

the Tibetan peoples to return to the great family of the 
Chinese Peoples Republic, while consolidating the 
defence of South-West China”. 

A word about Sino-Tibetan relations in the 20th 
Century would be useful to clarify the background to 
our doubts and hesitancy in dealing with the Chinese 
annexation of Tibet. In 1904, the British Indian 
Government of Lord Curzon organised a military 
expedition, under Colonel Younghusband, against Tibet, 
with the aim of “forestalling any likely collusion between 
the Dalai Lama and Russian agents”. It will be 
recalled that Czarist Russia was the bogey-man of the 
early part of the 20th Century. Younghusband success- 
fully reached Lhasa, and the Dalai Lama was forced 
to agree to terms. The resultant Anglo-Tibetan Treaty 
of 1904 secured Britain certain trading rights, and a 
guarantee against concessions to foreign Powers. The 
British thereafter had a direct influence over the foreign 
policy of Tibet. This was a thinly-disguised arrange- 
ment to create and maintain a buffer zone to protect 
the northern borders of British India. 

The Treaty was confirmed by the Anglo-Ghinese 
Treaty of 1906. Lord Curzon urged the British Govern- 
ment to secure de-jure international recognition of Tibet 
as a sovereign state, but he was overruled by the Home 
Government as the rather vague concept of Chinese 
suzerainty was considered to be a harmless fiction. 
Britain was then at the zenith of her world power and 
China was weak and dominated by various European 
Powers. There was little point in making an issue of 
a trifling matter with a harmless neighbour. 

Chinese suzerainty over Tibet was always nebulous 
and nominal. Tibet had been independent for long 
periods up to the 18th Century. In 1720 Chinese 
Forces entered Tibet “to forestall a suspected Tibetan- 
Mongol alliance against China”. They occupied Lhasa 
and two Chinese Ambans, or Residents, were introduced. 
In 1792, Emperor Ghien Lung exacted a formal recog- 



10 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


nition of Chinese suzerainty and the administration of 
Tibet was brought more under the control of the 
Ambans. During the latter half of the L9th Century 
Chinese control weakened. The Tibetans chose a 
Dalai Lama without informing China, as they were 
required to do. The Chinese had little option but to 
condone the irregularity, as they were too weak to 
enforce their agreement by force of arms. 

The Chinese Imperial Government of the Manchus 
tried to exercise greater control over Tibet and in 1910 
they invaded Tibet forcing the Dalai Lama to flee to 
India. He was deposed by an Imperial decree. After 
the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty by the Chinese 
Revolution of 1911, the authority of China as the 
suzerain Power was speedily challenged and over- 
thrown. The Dalai Lama was restored to power, 
returned to Lhasa in 1912, and drove out the Chinese 
garrisons. 

The Chinese Government tried to recapture Tibet 
but were prevented from doing so by the British Govern- 
ment. This time the British Government claimed that 
any attempt to capture Tibet would be a violation of 
the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of 1906. While Chinese 
suzerainty was not disputed, “the British Government 
could not consent to the forcible assertion of full 
sovereignty' over a state which had established 
independent treaty relations with the British 
Government”. 

In 1913 the Tibetans proclaimed their indepen- 
dence. In the same year the British Government held 
a Tripartite Conference of Tibet, China and Britain, 
in Simla (India). The Conference concluded its de- 
liberations by April 1914. Briefly, the main provisions 
which concern our study, were that Tibet was divided 
into two regions, i.e. Inner and Outer Tibet. China 
agreed to abstain from all interference in the adminis- 
tration of Outer Tibet, which was to be fully auto- 
nomous. A Chinese Resident was to be re-established. 



ANNEXATION OF TIBET AND INDIA’S CHINA POLICY 1 1 


Cliina agreed not to convert Tibet into a Chinese 
Province or send troops to Outer Tibet. Agreement 
was also reached on the boundary between India and 
Tibet, from Bhutan eastwards to Burma, which was 
then under the British Indian Government. This 
boundary later became known as the McMahon Line, 
which has figured so largely in the recent Sino-Indian 
dispute. The question of Chinese “suzerainty” was 
settled bilaterally hetween the Governments of Tibet 
and British India. Mr. Hugh Richardson, GIE, OBE, 
former Officer-in-Charge of the Indian Mission in 
Lhasa, has made this authoritative statement in a letter 
entitled “The Myth of ‘Suzerainty’” : “A term that was 
bandied about in the past and a little today is 
‘suzerainty*. Wc hear that somehow or other Tibet 
has always been under the suzerainty of China and 
that various Governments, our own and the Indian 
Government, have recognised that. The facts are 
quite the opposite. In 1914 by the Simla Convention, 
the British Government signed a declaration directly 
with Tibet by which it undertook not to recognise the 
suzerainty of China over Tibet unless the Chinese gave 
a substantial quid pro quo by admitting the autonomy 
of Tibet and fixing a frontier. The quid pro quo was 
never given and consequently to this day, or rather till 
we handed over our responsibility in 1947 to the 
Indian Government, the British Government did not 
recognise the suzerainty of China over Tibet. I am 
aware that certain. Ministers of the Crown, have made 
statements that might give you another impression. 
But whatever a Minister may say in Parliament cannot 
affect the terms of a mutually signed declaration with 
another Government”. 

Cliina did not ratify the Simla Agreement on the 
grounds that they could not accept the proposed boundaries 
between Inner and Outer Tibet. The British and the 
Tibetans went ahead and signed a Convention almost 
identical to that agreed at Simla. Now the Chinese 
claim that they have never accepted the McMahon 



HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


12 

Line because they were not signatories to the Simla 
Convention. 

After the Simla Convention Tibet remained in 
effect independent. In 1921 the British Government 
informed China that they did not feel justified m with- 
holding any longer recognition of the status of Tibet 
as an autonomous State, under the suzerainty of China, 
and intended to deal on this basis with Tibet in future. 
China was too weak to challenge this position. 

During World War II Tibet opened its own 
Foreign Affairs Bureau. She did not join China which 
was directly involved in the war. Tibet claimed 
neutrality and resisted Chinese pressure for opening 
up communications through Tibet. If Tibet had 
been under China, she could not have been neutral or 
denied facilities to the Central authority. In 1947, a 
Tibetan trade mission travelled abroad on Tibetan and 
not Chinese passports. 

Tibet was thus never a full-fledged Chinese pro- 
vince. Chinese suzerainty was nominal and was 
challenged by the Tibetans whenever they were strong, 
or the Central Chinese Government was weak. China 
never had any direct control over Tibet except by 
conquest. Except for two short periods of direct 
Chinese rule, Tibet had been independent for years. 
British officials who ought to know, have proclaimed 
Tibet’s independence. The last British officer in 
Lhasa, Mr. H. Richardsons has said, “There was not 
a trace of Chinese authority in Tibet after 1912”. 

Mr. d ayaprakash TSJarayan, the revered, revolu- 
tionary leader of the 1942 freedom movement, cited the 
historical record in 1959. He said, “China has not 
exercised suzerainty, sovereignty or any other form of 
control over Tibet at any time from 1912 to 1950 when 
Chinese Communist Forces invaded the country and 
compelled the Dalai Lama to accept the so-called 
Seventeen-Point Agreement. After Peking broke its 
pledge to respect Tibet’s autonomy, the Dalai 



ANNEXATION OF TIBET AND INDIA’S CHINA POLICY 13 

Lama’s Government repudiated this Agreement on 
11th March 1959, thereby provoking die hill-scale 
Chinese assault”. He then called Mr. Nehru, “The 
worldly-wise, who by their lack of courage and faith, 
block the progress of the human race not towards the 
moon but towards humanity itself. These persons 
have a myopic view and forget that nothing stands, or 
can stand still in history — not even the Chinese 
Empire”. 

These irrefutable historical facts could have pro- 
vided us with the opportunity to engage in a dialogue 
with China, and adduce legal arguments for mobilising 
world opinion to prevent China’s annexation of Tibet. 
Our most fundamental national interests demanded 
such a move. Instead we adopted a policy of appease- 
ment and surrender to China. We acquiesced meekly 
and accepted the change in the status quo. We went 
out of our way to defend China’s annexation and found 
historical justification. We accepted Chinese assertions 
that they would respect Tibet’s autonomy, and their 
promises that they would not resort to violence. 

We even went so far as to oppose discussion of 
Tibet’s appeal to the United Nations. When the 
Tibetan appeal came up for discussion in the U.N. 
General Assembly on 23rd November 1950, the Indian 
Delegate opposed the inclusion of the question on the 
agenda saying that “in the latest note received by my 
Government, the Peking Government was certain that 
the Tibet question could still be settled by peaceful 
means, and that such a settlement could safeguard the 
autonomy which Tibet has enjoyed for several decades 
while maintaining its historical association with China”. 
The matter was dropped. If India was satisfied no 
other country was prepared to stick its neck out. 

By the end of 1950 the Tibetan question was 
“solved by India”. Our action was typical of a weak 
nation faced by a superior power. We could not, or 
did not, want to face China alone. We were non- 



14 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


aligned and peaceful so we could not enlist the help of 
allies. We believed in China’s professions of eternal 
friendship. Henceforth our National Policy was to 
cultivate China’s friendship in every way, and thereby 
we hoped to buy her off. We advocated her cause in 
the U.N. and hoped that China’s initial revolutionary 
zeal would mellow and she would behave in a civilised 
manner. Meanwhile, we would concentrate on develop- 
ing our economy. 

China began patrolling Ladakh in 1951, at the 
time when she was involved in Korea and weak. She 
might have then accepted *a compromise on the border. 
Nehru did nothing and did not even bother to inform 
Parliament. He later admitted in Parliament that, 
“I saw no reason to discuss the frontier with the Chinese 
Government because, foolishly if you like, I thought 
there was nothing to discuss”. 

We failed to recognise two important and over- 
whelming facts. A strong China has always been an 
expansionist China. Tibet had exercised ecclesiastical 
authority over a large portion of NEFA, Bhutan, 
Sikkim and parts of Nepal, and political privileges often 
accompanied religious jurisdiction. If China was 
allowed to exercise the legal powers and prerogatives 
of Tibet she could lay claims to large tracts of land on 
our northern frontiers, and she had the will and means 
to enforce her claims. The boundary issue could be 
activated. For centuries India and Tibet had lived 
by custom, usage, tradition and without a surveyed 
boundary. Such customary and dt&neatk/n 

could be rendered invalid by a hostile neighbour. A 
ruthless and expansionist China could be tempted to 
use the boundary question to create tension. 

The second fact was that we would sooner or later 
have to be prepared to defend our sovereignty and 
territorial integrity in the northern regions, a contin- 
gency that would place a great strain on the national 
exchequer of a poor, developing nation. 



ANNEXATION OF TIBET AND INDIA’S CHINA POUCY 15 

We should either have prepared ourselves to resist 
Ghina or to make concessions, including border adjust- 
ments. We did neither. After 1956 we would not 
concede China’s territorial claims and therefore accepted 
the possibility of a clash. Unfortunately we did not 
build up militarily to thwart Ghina if she chose to use 
force to sustain her claims. Instead we based our 
policy on hopes that by befriending her we would 
stave off the evil day of reckoning. The evil day came 
on 20thOctober 1962, barely 15 years after Independence, 
and 12 years after China’s annexation of Tibet. 

I would like to add an interesting footnote. In 
October 1950 1 was a student at the Defence Services 
Staff College in Wellington, South India. Soon after 
the news of the Chinese entry into Tibet reached us, 
the Commandant, General W. D. A. (‘Joe’) Lentaigne, 
strode into the main lecture hall, interrupted the 
lecturer and proceeded to denounce our leaders for 
their short-sightedness and inaction, in the face of the 
Chinese action. Speaking purely as a soldier and 
strategist, he said that India’s back door had been 
opened, and the Himalayas had become the boundary 
with a large, powerful and expansionist China. He 
dwelt on the vulnerability of our eastern regions due 
to the concentration of industry and sources of raw 
materials, and said that these would be within range 
of bombers operating from bases in Tibet. He forecast 
that the defence of this mountainous frontier would 
cost India more than she could afford. Roads would 
have to be built; and large, specially equipped forces 
would have to be raised and stationed in accommodation 
which we would have to construct at great expense. 
If the Kashmir issue was not solved then India would 
have an unmanageable defence burden. He reminded 
us that the Indian Air Force and Navy would have to 
be modernised at considerable cost. He predicted 
that India would have to pay dearly for failure to act 
before. China became stronger and was free of her 
commitment in Korea. His Inst prophetic remark was 



16 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


that some of the students present in the hall would be 
fighting the Chinese before retirement- How right he 
was! Lt.-Col. ‘Bay* Mehta was killed in 1962, I was 
taken prisoner, and another officer who was the senior 
staff officer to the Corps Commander. 

General Lentaigne was a distinguished British 
General with an impressive war record. He had 
commanded a Gorkha battalion in the withdrawal from 
Burma in 1942, and later a brigade. He was given 
command of the second Chindit Operation after the 
tragic death of General Orde Wingate in 1944. He 
also commanded a division. He was extremely well 
read, and a keen student of war and history. He was 
loved by the students. His outburst against our leaders 
outraged us. We felt that he had no right to criticise 
our Government, and classified him as an old imperialist 
koi-hai and a Blimp. Now I realise that Joe was a true 
friend of India, and he was deeply grieved at the 
prospect of a military confrontation with China. Joe 
loved India and had volunteered to stay on after the 
departure of the British, to start the Staff College, 
which till today is a monument to his professional skill 
and dedicated work. 

Soon after this, in early 1951, a very senior official 
of the External Affairs Ministry gave us a talk on the 
history of Sino-Tibetan relations over the tenturies. 
He naturally held a brief for Government to justify 
the policy of allowing China to subjugate Tibet. He 
harped on the influence of Buddhism and told us fairy 
tales of beautiful princesses who won the hearts of 
sundry rulers and introduced Buddhism into Tibet - 
blah, blah, blah. His final summing up was that China 
might be behaving crudely but legally she was exer- 
cising her traditional rights and jurisdiction. I must 
admit that I was very impressed by the facts that he 
had marshalled, and in my ignorance was satisfied 
that there was nothing that we could do about this 
affair. 



ANNEXATION OF TIBET AND INDIA’S CHINA POLICY 17 

General Lentaigne who was skilled at heckling 
and pestering guest speakers, promptly rose to his feet 
and asked the learned speaker-whether India intended 
to accept the rape of Tibet whatever the historical 
background. He asked him if history bore any relation 
to the facts as known in the 20th Century. He then 
asked searching questions about the strategic implica- 
tions of the Chinese presence in Tibet, and whether 
India would countenance the exercise of full sovereignty 
in Tibet, including the stationing of troops along our 
northern borders. Pat came the answer, “General, 
I thought that you had asked me to give a talk on 
history and not strategy - strategy I -leave to you 
soldiers”. New India’s bureaucrats and thinkers were 
obviously attempting to separate history, politics and 
strategy into three unrelated compartments. 

Sardar Patel died in December 1950 and there 
was no one to question the China Policy adopted by 
India. He wrote a prophetic letter to Mr. Nehru on 
7th November 1950, a month before his death. Patel’s 
predictions have proved to be remarkably percipient. 
We have not only been subjected to a Chinese invasion 
but have been saddled with a restive north-eastern 
border population. The Sardar’s letter deserves a place 
in every analysis of Sino-Indian relations between 1950 
and 1962, and is reproduced in full in Appendix I. 



Chapter III 


The Uneasy Lull — 1950 to 1955 

The Chinese began to consolidate their hold on Tibet 
with customary thoroughness. On 9th September 
1951 they entered Lhasa “peacefully”. In political 
matters they were patient, and did not force the pace 
of change. They used the existing political system 
and the immense authority of the Dalai Lama to 
implement the famous Seventeen-Point Agreement. 

In the early years, their primary aim appeared to 
be to build strategic roads and airfields, and set up their 
communications to Sinkiang Province via Rudok, in 
Tibet. They had to swallow a large chunk of Indian 
territory in the Aksai Chin area to build this vital 
highway. They increased the number of their garrisons 
and began to “set up their national defences”. They 
were also preparing to crush any armed revolt that 
may be started by what they termed feudal reactionaries. 
The tough sturdy Khampas of Eastern Tibet had not 
been reconciled to subservience to Chinese rule. By 
1953 all the important towns were connected by 
telegraph. 

By 1954 China had been linked by two major 
roads with Tibet, capable of carrying heavy traffic. 
As there were no other heavy vehicles except Army 
lorries, these roads were clearly for military use. 
Opposite NEFA they built a 3-ton road just north of 
the McMahon Line, and many feeders to their border 
detachments. 

A railway line to Lhasa was contemplated and 
detailed survey operations had commenced. 

On the political side, the Chinese took hundreds 
of young, bright Tibetans, many of the serf class, for 



THE UNEASY LULL - 1950 TO 1955 


19 


higher education and indoctrination, to Mainland China. 
They returned to occupy key positions in the local 
administration. I met one of these officials during my 
imprisonment, and he was more rabidly anti-feudal 
than the Chinese themselves. These young men were 
ideal for China’s long-term purposes, as their families 
had suffered for generations at the hands of rapacious 
landlords and monks. 

During this period China did not want to agitate 
the Indo-Tibetan border areas, as they needed time, 
and India’s help. Besides, they were fully occupied by 
the Korean War between 1950 and 1953; and later 
in helping the Viet-Minh in the latter’s war with the 
French in Indo-China between 1953 and 1954. China 
talked of eternal peace and friendship between India 
and China. The era of “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai” (Brother- 
liness), cultural delegations, missions and mutual visits 
was thus born. 

China’s early restraint and outward manifestations 
of peaceful behaviour paid them handsome dividends. 
The Indo-Tibetan crisis of 1950 was dismissed. We 
announced our firm resolve to remove India’s woeful 
poverty and accorded priority to development. The 
First Five-Year Plan was launched with great dan and 
hopes. Mild doses of socialism were prescribed in a 
basically capitalist economy mainly to silence the 
Communists and the Left Socialists, and to isolate 
them from the restive masses. Soon after Independence 
the Congress Socialists had left the parent organisation, 
and some of the best brains of the Congress severed 
their long connection with the giant political Party. 
India had also received a shock by the agrarian revolt 
in Warangal and Telcngana (South India) where the 
peasantry rose against the Government. This was a 
dangerous portent for a Government ostensibly wedded 
to progress by democratic methods. 

In the prevailing atmosphere of cordiality and 
peace, China and India signed the Sino-Indian Agree- 



20 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


ment on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibetan 
Region of China and India on 29th April 1954. The 
preamble to this Agreement enunciated the now in- 
famous “Panch Shed” or Five Principles to govern 
relations between the two countries. These were: 

(а) Mutual respect for each other’s territorial 
integrity and sovereignty. 

(б) Mutual non-aggression. 

{c) Mutual non-interference in each other’s 
internal affairs. 

( d ) Equal and mutual benefit. 

(«) Peaceful co-existence. 

China was the main beneficiary of this Agreement. 
India had formally recognised China’s complete control 
over Tibet. We had written off Tibet in return for 
Chinese guarantees of good behaviour, as embodied in 
the Five Principles. We sought security by a written 
treaty, and believed that we were guaranteed against 
an invasion. We failed to demand any reciprocal 
benefit, especially in insisting on a final border agree- 
ment, which at that time was the only possible source 
of friction. 

We voluntarily gave up the military, communication 
and postal rights in Tibet which we had inherited from 
the British as a result of the Anglo-Tibetan Treaty of 
1904, and agreed to withdraw completely, Avithin six 
months, the military detachments stationed at Yatung 
and Gyantse; we offered to hand over to China, the 
postal and telegraph services together with their 
equipment. 

Defending the Agreement Mr. Nehru said, “It was 
recognition of the existing situation there. Historical 
and practical considerations necessitated the step”. 
This was the only approach of a man who desired peace 
and who wanted to avoid conflict. He hoped to cement 
China’s friendship and thought that he could solve any 
differences that may arise, peacefully. Ulogically, he 



THE UNEASY LULL - 1950 TO 1955 21 

did not keep his powder dry and completely ignored 
the military problems posed by our northern Himalayan 
Border. The slogan coined was “There will be no 
war with China in Mr. Nehru’s life-time”. This was 
the guide-line for Government, the Civil Service, the 
Financial experts, the Services, the Press and the Public. 
It also became the corner-stone of our National Aims 
and National Policy. This approach dominated our 
actions during the next eight years and was responsible 
for Mr. Nehru’s anguished cry of having been stabbed 
in the back. 

Mr. Nehru introduced Mr. Chou-en Lai to the 
Afro-Asian world at Bandung in 1955. We continued 
to champion China’s cause in the U.N. and advocated 
her admission to the world body. The era of Indo- 
China friendship and brotherhood had begun to gather 
momentum. This facade of friendship suited China 
as this gave her more time to build up her economy 
and military strength. India was then an honoured 
and influential member of the world community, the 
moral leader of the newly independent nations, and thus 
a powerful advocate of China’s cause. China sedulously 
propounded the theory that China and India had never 
been at war, and had no cause in the future to resort 
to arms. 

This period closed with some faint warning 
murmurs, which might have been heeded, but were 
not. In August 1954 the Chinese created a border 
incident at a place called Bara-Hoti on the Uttar- 
Pradesh-Tibet Border, when the ink had hardly dried 
on Panch Sheel. The Chinese claimed that Bara-Hoti 
(called Wuje by them) was Chinese territory. 

In Bandung Mr. Chou-en Lai said, “We have not 
yet fixed our border line with some countries”. We 
were again warned, but not alerted. 

Mr. Nelu*u visited China in 1954 and was given a 
royal reception, returning charmed and impressed. 
He thought that China’s leaders did not want war. In 



22 HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 

a lesser being it might have been alleged that he was 
brain-washed. 

Let us see what the views of the Army General 
Staff were, as the Chinese threat was a matter of concern 
to any live and alert Army. What action did the Army 
take to assess the potential Chinese threat and. what was 
done to project the General Staff appreciation to the 
Government? In 1952 General Kulwant Singh, a 
very able and distinguished field commander, who had 
exercised high command in Kashmir in 1947-48, 
headed a committee to study the military threat to our 
Northern horders, and to assess the requirements in the 
event of a clash with China in the Himalayan region. 
He submitted a lengthy and comprehensive report. 
Unfortunately, like many other reports to Government, 
it was shelved. All that emerged was the raising of 
a small Indo-Tibctan Border Force, under the Home 
Ministry, mainly to establish our administration in a 
few selected places. Militarily the Force was useless 
and ineffective. 

The Kulwant Singh report gave Government an 
opportunity to consider the purely military aspects, 
and the counter-measures required to challenge the 
Chinese in the Himalayas if ever this unpleasant situa- 
tion arose. Government’s orders were clear. It was 
decided at the highest level, presumably the Cabinet, 
that no military preparations against China were 
necessary, and there was little the Army could do in 
the face of this direct and unequivocal order. It was 
clear even before the 1954 Agreement, that we would 
not attempt to challenge the Chinese militarily. So, 
literally nothing was done about our Northern Defences. 
We built no roads; we did not strengthen our intelli- 
gence arrangements (assuming we had any) and did 
not even carry out any reconnaissance of likely trouble 
spots in our own areas. 

. We did not carry out staff studies for the reorgan- 
isation of our field formations. We did not study the 



THE UNEASY LULL - 1950 TO 1955 


23 


pattern of weapons and communications equipments 
that we may require. Army Schools of Instruction 
were orientated towards open warfare. There was little 
emphasis on mountain warfare despite the Army’s 
deployment in Kashmir from 194-7. 

Up to 1954 China was not allowed to figure in the 
thinking at Army HQ., Pakistan then posed the main 
threat. For historical and religious reasons, Pakistan 
and India were natural enemies and only statesmanship 
of the highest order could avert war. The two nations 
were carved out of the great Indian Peninsula, Partition 
being based on religious majority. Partition and 
Independence in 1947 were preceded by mass killings, 
riots and atrocities that made every decent Pakistani 
and Indian hang his head in shame. The aftermath 
of Partition was even worse, when we witnessed the 
wholesale murders of the Punjab and the reprisals in 
Bihar and elsewhere. The hatred and revengeful 
feelings of 1947 have yet to be removed. Time has 
not healed the scars of mutual distrust and loss of 
property. 

Hardly had sanity returned when Pakistan un- 
leashed her tribals against Kashmir in October 1947. 
The Indian Army rushed to the rescue of the Kashmiris 
who had belatedly acceded to India under the Instru- 
ment of Accession that governed the political relations 
and future of* the erstwhile Indian States. Soon the 
Regular Pakistan Army was thrown in, and in less 
than a year after Partition, Pakistan and India were 
at war. 

When the tide had turned in India’s favour and 
the military situation could have enabled us to achieve 
a battlefield decision, Mr. Nehru decided to refer the 
issue to the U.N. and a cease-fire was accepted on 
1st January 1949, leaving one-third of Kashmir under 
Pakistan’s control. The so-called Kashmir deadlock 
remains unsolved despite interminable talks, U.N. 
debates and the intervention of U.N. mediators. History 



24 HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 

will demand an answer to the question as to why a 
cease-fire was sought by us when. 'the involvement of 
Pakistan was not even proved. We have saddled our* 
selves with a problem that has bedevilled relations 
between India and Pakistan for two decades. Only a 
computer can assess the cost in terms of money, loss 
of life, alienation of other countries and the resultant 
hardships to the Indian people. The manning of the 
Cease-Fire Line costs money and ties down troops. 
The recurring border incidents vitiates the atmosphere 
between the two countries. 

The Kashmir War was a strange war. The two 
sides were led by British Commanders-in-Chief, General 
Boucher of the Indian Army and General Gracey of 
the Pakistan Army. They had access to each other 
and were reported to have held talks every evening to 
discuss the day’s events. 

Partition left many problems in its wake, viz. the 
demarcation of the boundaries between the two 
countries; division of assets; the canal waters dispute; 
religious minorities on the wrong side of the border and 
many others. Any of these could cause a major military 
clash. In 1951 the armies of the two countries faced 
each other across the border in the Punjab, but fortun- 
ately wisdom prevailed and war was averted. 

The confrontation of 1951 taught the Pakistan 
Government a major lesson. They knew that they had 
to do something urgently to achieve near military 
parity with India. As they saw it, they had to free 
themselves from the constant threat and intimidatory 
tactics of India. They also foresaw an inevitable clash 
of arms with India over Kashmir or any of the other 
outstanding issues. The Kashmir issue was crystallising 
into a set pattern, with India refusing to budge from 
her position that there was nothing to discuss. Only 
victory in war would give Pakistan what she considered 
her dues and rights. 



THE UNEASY LULL - 1950 TO 1955 


25 


In 1953 Pakistan signed a Mutual-Aid Treaty with 
the U.S. A., and joined the US-sponsored security pacts 
of CENTO and SEATO. They traded bases in 
Pakistan for massive military aid and were fully in the 
Western camp. This was a dangerous portent for 
India. On 13th November Mr. Nehru issued a clear 
warning that India would regard U.S. Military Aid 
to Pakistan as an unfriendly act. He also denounced 
the pact in Parliament as endangering peace and 
tending towards colonialism. In January 1954 he 
thought, “it will certainly bring world war nearer in 
the matter of time as also nearer India’s frontier”. 
Mr. John Foster Dulles, the U.S. Secretary of State, was 
not impressed with Nehru’s verbal views and proceeded 
to do what he thought was best for his country. 
Mr. Dulles was the prime architect of the theory of 
containing Communism by building a ring of collective 
security pacts. Pakistan on the southern boundaries 
of Russia was an invaluable base. It is now known that 
American U-2 spy aeroplanes have operated from 
Peshawar airfield in Pakistan. We were satisfied, 
after indulging in another futile gesture of recording 
our displeasure. 

Mr. Eisenhower, the U.S. President, is reported to 
have offered India similar aid but without strings. 
Mr. Nehru disdainfully declined the offer. We were a 
peace-loving country and did not wish to align ourselves 
with any Power. We also had to give the impression 
of being self-reliant and independent. 

1954 was a critical year for India. American Aid 
in the form of money, construction of military accom- 
modation, Patton Tanks, F-86 fighter aircraft, radar 
equipment, medium and heavy artillery guns and the 
latest family of infantry weapons flowed to rejuvenate 
Pakistan’s World War II type Army. Pakistan was 
gifted sufficient military hardware to raise a modem, 
powerful strike force to threaten the security of the 
Punjab and even Delhi itself. In any case, India could 



26 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


no longer conquer Pakistan, and there would be no 
more one-sided military confrontations. 

Politically Kashmir could no longer be solved in 
the U.N. as the Western Powers would have to side 
with their new ally, Pakistan. This was a possibility 
that was not foreseen by us. We did not evaluate the 
long-term implications of this, and continued to rely on 
Western impartiality and U.N. fairplay. The exag- 
gerated international respect paid to India and her 
non-aligned policy gave us the totally erroneous 
impression that we could count on being free of power- 
politics. 

Our appreciation was that Pakistan would need 
about three years to absorb aid, reorganise her Army 
and train on the U.S. Army patterns and procedures. 
It was well known that hundreds of Pakistani Army 
and Air Force officers were being trained in U.S. 
Schools of Instruction. Knowing that India, under 
Mr. Nehru would never commit aggression, the regular 
Pakistan Army was concentrated for re-equipment and 
training, and her borders were handed over to para- 
military forces. The large influx of modem U.S. arms 
enabled Pakistan to re-equip her irregular forces with 
the World War II arms shed by the American-aided 
Divisions. The so-called Azad Kashmir Forces, manning 
the Cease-Fire Line on the Pakistan-occupied side of 
Jammu and Kashmir, became a more effective fighting 
force, and one that could no longer be treated con- 
temptuously by the regular Indian Army. 

The military balance of power had been altered 
to India’s disadvantage. India now faced the possi- 
bility of war along the entire Western and Northern 
borders of the Indian sub-continent, compelling the 
Indian. General Staff to review defence plans. Detailed 
appreciations were made and the minimum inescapable 
requirements projected to Government. After many 
delays, procrastinations and conferences Government 
were prevailed upon to sanction a modest reorganisation 



THE UNEASY LULL - 1950 TO 1955 


27 


programme; permit a few new raisings and the purchase 
of essential equipment. It was fortunate that this was 
done as we would otherwise have been in dire straits 
in the 1965 conflict with Pakistan. 

In granting these small additions to the strength 
of the Army, Government made it clear that we were 
not to think in terms of an arms race with Pakistan. 
Our main reliance was to be placed on the assurances 
given by the U.S. President to Mr. Nehru, that the 
U.S. would never permit Pakistan to use American 
arms against India. This assurance had been given to 
pacify India when there was alarm at Pakistan’s military 
build-up. We did not pause to ask ourselves where 
Pakistan hopes to use Patton Tanks and short-range 
supersonic aircraft against any Communist nation, 
except the snow-bound, inhospitable Gilgit region of 
occupied Kashmir, where there is a frontier with China. 

We also hoped that the cold war would give us 
additional security, as the U.S.S.R. would not stand by 
idly, while an American-aided and equipped army 
invaded India. In other words, vague diplomatic 
promises and hopes would be our safeguard to ward 
off the Pakistani danger. Once again India trusted 
her defences to others, as she has done so often in her 
history. This was the official National Aim and the 
National Policy, in so far as Pakistan was concerned, 
in 1954. 

Government and the Congress majority in Parlia- 
ment blindly and unwisely accepted Mr. Eisenhower’s 
word. Pakistan used her American aircraft and armour 
against us in the Rann oFKutch, in April 1965; in the 
Chhamh Sector in Jammu and Kashmir and in the 
Punjab in September 1965. President Johnson of the 
U.S.A. was unable to prevent Pakistan from breaking 
her pledge to the U.S.A. _ The recent (1968) Soviet- 
Pakistan Arms Deal has agitated the public, responsible 
leaders and alert organisations. We have been treated 
to the same doses of soothing promises, assurances and 



28 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


barely plausible explanations from Russian and Indian 
leaders. Is it conceivable that India will allow herself 
to be duped twice in one generation? 

During 1954-55 Mr. Nehru was extolling the 2,000 
years of Sino-Indian friendship. China was, at that 
time, surveying various routes through Aksai Chin, 
while India remained apparently ignorant of this. 
India did not even know that a route was being built 
till the Chinese announced, in September 1957, that 
they would open the route for traffic within a month. 
We sent reconnaissance parties to the area and one was 
“arrested” by the Chinese. Mr. Nehru did not deem 
it fit to inform Parliament of this humiliating experience. 
When questioned, Mr. Nehru gave his classic reply. 
He said, “No particular occasion arose to bring the 
matter to the House because we thought we might 
make progress by correspondence, and when the time 
was ripe for it we would inform the House”. 

This then was the political climate in 1954 and 
early 1955. Defence was relegated to the lowest 
priority in the national effort. The role given to the 
Army was “to be prepared to defend ourselves against 
a second-class power” - obviously Pakistan. Was 
Pakistan going to remain a second-class power after 
her reorganisation? What is the definition of a 
second-class power in the context of the formulation 
of the size and constitution of the Indian Armed 
Forces? 

Minor border incidents were the only military’ 
problems that we were called upon to deal with. The 
Indian Corps in the Punjab was capable of repelling 
any attack by the Pakistani Army, and in any case, 
such an attack was impossible until Pakistan had re- 
organised and re-equipped her forces, sometime by 
mid-July 1957. China was a friend. The Indian 
Government, which has been accused of working on a 
day-to-day basis, felt it had been reprieved for the next 
few years anyway. 



THE UNEASY LULL - 1950 TO 1955 29 

The Army was forgotten; its equipment allowed to 
become obsolete, certainly obsolescent; and its training 
academic and outdated. We merely tried to maintain 
what we had inherited in 1947, at Independence. 

The years between 1947 and 1955 must go down in 
our history as wasted years, in our defence thinking 
and military preparedness. The political assumptions 
for our defence policies were invalid and dangerous. 
Friendship with China was a variable factor and could 
be changed at short notice. While friendly gestures 
are to be welcomed, they cannot be used as an excuse 
for improvident hopes, military inaction and neglect. 
American assurances regarding Pakistan’s good be- 
haviour could not be enforced short of war. 

Even if the political assumptions were valid, it 
would still have been prudent on our part to embark 
on a phased programme of modernisation of military 
equipment and reorientating our planning and training. 
We should have reorganised the Army which was still 
on the World War II pattern. There was a good deal 
that should have been done but was not done. During 
this period we did not have the required ministerial 
talent, and if one is honest, the professional ability, to 
keep a watching brief on the activities of our neighbours 
and take far-sighted and timely decisions. Lacking 
firm higher directions, the Armed Forces merely coasted 
along, and began to lose the professional efficiency 
gained during World War II and in the Kashmir 
Operations. 

Later, after 1959 we embarked on various crash 
programmes, but by then it was too late. Crash pro- 
grammes have no place in long-term planning for 
possible war. This has now been admitted by the 
Government, when Mr. Ghavan the Defence Minister 
said that an Army requires not only money but also 
time to prepare for war. 



Chapter IV 


The Twilight Years -1955 to 1959 

Our Military affairs continued to drift. Our Policy 
was based on wishful thinking, reliance on foreign 
assurances, indifference to the mounting threats, and 
misconceived financial stringency. Military problems 
were handled on a day-to-day basis and no effort was 
made to evolve a rational long-term policy consistent 
with our foreign policy. The Armed Forces were not 
designed to implement our National Aims or \o guard 
our vital national interests. No serious consideration 
whatsoever was given to the safeguarding of the political 
frontiers of India. Mr. Nehru followed the same path 
of most previous rulers. He relegated the frontier 
problem to the status of a petty issue and ignored the 
serious consequences to India. It is an astonishing 
historical fact that most invaders have been allowed to 
enter undefended borders and battles have invariably 
been fought well inside our frontiers. 

U.N. mediation efforts and fruitless Security 
Council debates had failed to find an acceptable solution 
to the Kashmir deadlock. Many Army officers felt 
that Pakistan would try to force a settlement by war, 
as soon as she felt secure in West Pakistan. This 
security would be assured by her American-aided Corps. 
During this period Pakistan, provoked major border 
clashes at Chhad Bet in the Rann of Kntch. area, later 
to be the scene of bitter fighting in April 1965; at 
Husseiniwala on the Ferozepore border in Punjab 
where there was a pitched battle with artillery' and 
heavy mortars; in the Patharia Reserve Forest area in 
Assam and many others. The tempo and intensity 
of border and cease-fire violations in Jammu and 
Kashmir was stepped up, raising tempers on both sides 
to boiling point. The aim of these frequent and widely- 



THE TWILIGHT YEARS ~ 1955 TO 1959 31 

separated incidents was undoubtedly to test our will to 
resist. In each case we reacted sharply and rapidly 
and localised the dispute. We were satisfied that we 
could contain and deal firmly with Pakistan, and nothing 
more was required to handle the Pakistani threat. 

From 1956 onwards China gradually began to shed 
her cloak of friendship and started a clever campaign 
to claim and assert her rights to vast areas in Ladakh 
and NEFA, while retaining an outward fa$ade of 
reasonableness and readiness to engage in talks. In 
1958 China published maps showing large tracts of 
Indian territory as Chinese. When questioned, 
Mr. Chou-en Lai said that they were reproductions of 
old maps and the new Chinese Government had no 
time to rectify them. He said, ominously, “The area 
would have to be surveyed properly”. 

News of the Chinese Highway through our territory 
in Aksai Chin in Ladalch began to leak out. A leading 
Chinese pictorial magazine showed pictures of this 
road. The era of “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai” was drawing 
to an end. Despite odd meetings between the Indian 
and Chinese Premiers, no final settlement was reached. 
China continued to enjoy the financial and commercial 
benefits of the 1954- Trade Agreement. 

It has been argued that by 1957 Mr. Nehru 
belatedly began to appreciate the dangers to our 
northern borders as well as the threat from Pakistan, 
but could not quite decide on the necessary counter- 
measures. The wasted years from 1950 to 1957 and 
the _ radically altered international situation made a 
choice neither easy nor palatable. With the benefit 
of hindsight it may be said that he left himself with 
only two alternatives. The first was to shelve our 
much-publicised ■ development plans and revoke all 
promises of quickly industrialising India, thereby divert- 
ing all our resources to rearmament and preparation for 
a military showdown with China and Pakistan. Indian 
progress, already painfully slow, would be retarded, 



32 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


perhaps for decades. Even total concentration on 
defence would not have ensured complete re-equipment 
and certain readiness for war. We would still require 
large-scale arms aid to equip the Army to fight two 
potential enemies, on two completely different types of 
terrain, viz. plains /deserts and the Himalayan moun- 
tains. Mr. Nehru was impatient with the squalor and 
poverty of India and it was against all that he stood for 
and all his ambitions to adopt this course. 

Even if he had decided to give priority to defence, 
it would have been extremely difficult to find an assured 
source of arms supply, specially ammunition and spares. 
In 1965 the Western arms embargo (including spares) 
was a serious embarrassment in the short war with 
Pakistan. Our traditional suppliers had been the 
Western countries, especially the U.K. and U.S.A., 
largely because the Indian Army had inherited arms 
from these countries at the time of Independence and 
we had substantial sterling balances to pay for our 
modest military requirements. It would have been 
impossible to diversify the equipment of the Army 
without serious operational repercussions in the matter 
of ammunition, repair facilities and tactical doctrines 
which are so closely tied up with equipment. The 
U.K. and U.S.A. would have been hesitant to supply 
large quantities, without strings, as the international 
political environment in 1957 was vastly different to the 
situation prevailing in 1954. These countries could 
not supply or gift us arms in case we used these to fight 
Pakistan and settle outstanding issues on the battle- 
field, once and for all. They had created Pakistan and 
were committed to maintaining a balance of military 
capability between the two nations. Pakistan was 
wholly in the Western, camp, and a member of two 
U.S.-sponsored security organisations. On the other 
hand, India was at the zenith of her influence in the 
world, and had increasingly clashed with the West on 
major world issues, notably the Suez crisis and the 
Hungarian episode of 1956. An independent India 



THE TWILIGHT YEARS — 1955 TO 1959 


33 


could not be given the arms to back her political 
postures with military power. We would certainly 
have been forced to make political concessions and 
thereby deviate from our chosen, independent foreign 
policy. 

In 1957 we did not have enough convertible 
currency to buy our total requirements from open 
suppliers like France and Sweden. We had already 
embarked on a large borrowing programme, had 
incurred heavy debts, particularly with the U.S.A. and 
U.K., and had exhausted our sterling reserves. The 
Western Powers could hardly be expected to loan us 
more money for development while we utilised our own 
resources on arms purchases from their competitors, to 
fight their protege — Pakistan. This would have been 
a ludicrous situation. A sudden halt in economic aid 
would have been disastrous at that time, as we were in 
the midst of the Second Five-Year Plan. 

A Kashmir settlement would have been a pre- 
requisite for any substantial Western arms sales or aid. 
We would also have probably been asked to nominate 
China as a potential adversary and thereby abandon, 
or partially modify, our non-aligned policy in world 
affairs, and our desire to befriend China. We might 
have been called upon to evolve some sort of joint 
defence plans with Pakistan, for the security of the 
Indian sub-continent against Communist China. There 
was inspired talk of the alleged benefits of such an 
arc iw day*. Thssfc cointfims 

unthinkable in the mid-1950’s. 

Moreover, we could not afford to antagonise 
Russia with whom we had begun to develop close and 
friendly relations, after the much-publicised visit of 
Mr. Khrushchev and Marshal Bulganin, in 1955. They 
had championed our Kashmir stand in the Security 
Council, even to the extent of using the veto. They 
were beginning to give us substantial aid and technical 
know-how, particularly in developing heavy industries 



THE TWILIGHT YEARS - 1955 TO 1959 


35 


compromise, once it was decided that we did not have 
the resources for full-scale defence preparedness. We 
could have taken advantage of the favourable climate 
of friendship with China, as any solution found in the 
prevailing atmosphere of cordiality between 1954 and 
1957 would have been accepted by the people. As 
we had chosen to concentrate on progress and had 
eschewed war as the means of settling our disputes, 
we might have negotiated for a mutually acceptable 
formula for delineating the Indo-Tibetan border. In 
those early days, few Indians had even heard of Ladakh 
or NEFA, and it might have been easy to gain advantages 
for ourselves and accommodate China in the process. 
Instead we allowed the border issue to become an 
emotional one, and the defence of this inhospitable 
region (in the words of Mr. Nehru) became associated 
with India’s honour and manhood, and no concessions 
were possible under the threat of superior military 
force. In 1962 an allegedly inflamed public opinion 
is credited with having forced the Government to take 
hasty, imprudent and disastrous measures. 

By letting matters drift, the border poser became a 
convenient stick to beat Mr. Nehru’s Congress Govern- 
ment. Mr. Nehru, in defending his policies was 
compelled to make bombastic and reassuring statements, 
knowing fully well that he could not back his words 
with guns. Once the Chinese began nibbling at our 
territory, any concessions made would have been looked 
upon as appeasement and surrender. Government thus 
lost the initiative and had no alternative but to proclaim 
a tough and uncompromising posture. The border 
problem became the test of Government’s will and 
determination, and was heatedly debated at every 
session of the Lok Sabha. It was easy to accuse Govern- 
ment of being neglectful of India’s pride and inde- 
pendence; and of a willingness to surrender Indian 
territory. Emotion is the arch-enemy of reason and 
precludes the possibility of sober consideration of the 
military implications of any given situation. 



36 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


While Nehru was beset by doubts in formulating 
a firm National Policy, China demonstrated her bellige- 
rence by the increased frequency and intensity of border 
encroachments and incidents. It was also displayed 
at meetings and conferences where the Chinese repre- 
sentatives took an inflexible and intransigent attitude. 
They seldom agreed to see our point of view or to study 
our documentary evidence. Our documents were 
summarily dismissed as being the views of imperialist 
bureaucrats or mere travellers. Agreements arrived 
at during the British period were abrogated on the 
grounds that they had been imposed by a superior 
military power against weaker Asian nations. They 
took the stand that the whole question would have to 
be studied de novo. They were successful in making 
history stand still, and in wiping out the British Era 
in Asia. 

Initially the main focus was on the Indo-Tibetan 
border in Ladakh where China was bent on establishing 
her claim to, and keeping the Aksai Chin plateau 
through which she had built the Tibet-Sinkiang High- 
way. There was only one major incursion in the 
Walong sector of NEFA, in 1957. One of the strangest 
episodes of this period was the “visit” of a high-powered 
Chinese military, naval and air force delegation, 
consisting of Marshals and Generals. To the utter 
amazement and consternation of the Indian Army, the 
delegation was sent on a sight-seeing visit to every 
major military establishment in India, with orders to 
“show them everything”! 

1959 was the turning point in Sino-Indian relations, 
and there was no longer any room for vacillation or 
procrastination. There was no place for hopes, empty 
boasts or equivocation. On 10th March news of 
pitched battles between the Chinese Army and Tibetan 
patriots reached Delhi. Lhasa was the scene of a 
major clash. The first cautious reaction, of the Govern- 
ment was expressed by Mr. Nehru in Parliament, when 



THE TWILIGHT YEARS - 1955 TO 1959 37 

he said that he did not wish to express any view on the 
situation in Tibet since, apart from being embarrassing 
it might make a difficult position more difficult. “I do 
not say”, he added, “that there has been any large- 
scale violence; the situation there at present is more 
a clash of wills than a clash of arms of physical bodies”. 
Later he said that “We have no intention of interfering 
in the internal affairs of China with whom we have 
friendly relations**. 

The rebellion was inevitably and inexorably 
crushed. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee from 
Lhasa for the second time in fifty years. On 3rd April 
Mr. Nehru confirmed that the Dalai Lama had crossed 
into Indian territory on 31st March and had been 
granted political asylum, at his own request. 

The Dalai Lama was met by high Indian officials 
and given a reception befitting his high ecclesiastical 
and political status. After the protocol preliminaries 
India had to do some hard thinking, and take un- 
equivocal decisions as a result of this sudden develop- 
ment. Government appeared to have been taken by 
surprise, as it did not give the impression of having 
an answer to the radically new political situation. 
Mr. Nehru confirmed his dilemma on 27th April when 
he affirmed “our desire to maintain friendly relations 
with China and our deep sympathy with the Tibetan 
people”. Asylum to the Dalai Lama was an unfriendly 
act in the eyes, of the Chinese, and it would be difficult 
to reconcile friendship with China and sympathy with 
the Tibetans. On 14th May 1959, Mr. Nehru conceded 
that “the presence of the Dalai Lama does involve a 
certain strain on the relations between China and 
India”. 

In the event we adopted a compromise policy in 
that we. granted asylum but forbade the Dalai Lama 
any political activity, thereby alienating the Chinese 
without reaping any benefit from his presence in India 
and his animosity to the Chinese Communist regime. 



38 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


It is interesting to note that Burma and Ceylon, two 
Buddhist countries, refused to allow the Dalai Lama 
even to visit their, countries. They had decided that 
they were not going to walk a tight-rope. 

Predictably, China soon launched a tirade against 
India and her leaders, who were labelled “expansionist 
elements inheriting the British legacy”. The pressure 
was now really on. 1959 was probably the year that 
China decided to teach India a lesson, steadily built 
up for an invasion and awaited a pretext for overt 
military action that would not be too obviously a 
display of naked power. The men and material for 
the massive attacks of October-November 1962 were 
concentrated over at least three stocking seasons. 
Little did the Chinese hope that India, with her feeble 
and ill-conceived ‘Forward Policy’ would provide the 
convenient and plausible casus belli for her evil designs. 

In April 1959 China gave another clear -warning 
that the border question with India was still not settled. 
Speaking in the National People’s Congress, Chou-en 
Lai said, “The boundaries between China and certain 
neighbouring south-eastern countries remain undeter- 
mined and they could reasonably be solved through 
peaceful negotiations”. This hint went unnoticed and 
did little to stimulate us into some positive action. 

China then proceeded to hot up the pace of the 
sullen border confrontation and created three serious 
border incidents between August and October 1959, 
which could no longer hide the seriousness of the Sino- 
India border conundrum. The August incidents are 
best recounted in the words of the Prime Minister as 
he narrated the dismal failure of forbearance, and 
admitted the virtual lack of any kind of military pre- 



THE TWILIGHT YEARS - 1935 TO 1939 


39 


headed” by the Chinese on 28th July. He also 
admitted that the Chinese had established a camp near 
a place called Spanggur, well within our territory'. 
These startling disclosures evoked more questions 
forcing the Prime Minister to concede that two or three 
other places had also had frontier trouble. 

’ Mr. Nehru first dealt with the Khcnzcmanc clash 
of arms. He said: “On 7th August about 200 Chinese 
violated our border at Khcnzcmanc, north of 
Chutangmu, in Kameng Frontier Division. When 
requested to withdraw they pushed back — actually pushed 
back — our greatly out-numbered patrol to the bridge at 
Drokung Samba. Our people consisted of ten or a 
dozen . . . there was no firing. Later on the Chinese 
detachment withdrew' and our forces established them- 
selves. All this w’as over a question of about two miles. 
I might say that according to us there is an international 
border. Two miles on this side is the Bridge and two 
miles on that side is our picket or small force. So our 
patrol was pushed back to the Bridge and two miles 
away they stood facing each other. Then both retired. 
Whatever it was, later on the Chinese withdrew and our 
picket U’ent back to the frontier and established a small 
picket there. The Cliincsc party later arrived and 
demanded immediate withdrawal of our picket and 
lowering of our flag there. This request was refused. 
There w'as an attempt by the Chinese forces to outflank 
our people, but as far as we know' our people remained 
there and nothing further happened ; that is on the border 
itself. This w r as one instance which happened two 
weeks ago”. 

The second incident was at Longju. The Prime 
Minister said, “The present incident I am talking 
about is a very recent one and in fact a continuing one. 
On the 25th a strong Chinese detachment crossed into 
our territory, in the Subansiri Frontier Division, at a 
place south of Migyitun and opened fre at a forward post 
of ours. Honourable Members will remember I just 

Author's italics. 



40 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


mentioned Migyitun in connection with the Chinese 
protest that we had violated their territory, and were 
in collusion with some Tibetan rebels. That was the 
protest in June last and there the matter ended. Now 
round about that area, and a little further away, but 
not far from it, this Chinese detachment came and met 
our forward picket of about a dozen persons. It is 
said that they fired at our forward picket. They were 
in much larger numbers, it is difficult to say in what 
numbers but they were in some hundreds - 200, 300 
or even more. They surrounded the picket . . . they 
apparently apprehended this lot. . . . The outpost is at a 
place called Longju . . . Longju is about 3 to 4 miles 
from our frontier between India and Tibet as we conceive it. 
Longju is 5 days ’ march from another post of ours, in the 
interior, a bigger post called Limeking. Limeking is about 
12 days' march from the next place behind it. So in this way 
Longju is about 3 weeks from a roadhead. I merely mention 
this to give the House some idea of the communication, 
transport, distance and time taken. . . . The Chinese 
came again on the 26th and opened fire and practically 
encircled the picket and post . . . and although there was 
firing for a considerable time, we had no account of 
any casualties. Our people apparently fired back too. 
When the people were more or less surrounded at 
Longju they left the place and withdrew under over- 
whelming pressure”. 

The Prime Minister then gave an indication of the 
action taken by the Government in the face of this 
explosive situation. He told the House “The moment 
this information came we immediately protested to the 
Chinese Government about it and took certain other steps 
in that area to strengthen our various posts — • Limeking 
and others as we thought necessary and feasible 

He then disclosed that, “We have in fact placed 
this border area of NEFA directly under the military 
authorities. That is to say it was being dealt with by 
the Assam Rifles, under the Assam Rifles Directorate, 



THE TWILIGHT YEARS - 1955 TO 1959 


41 


which was functioning under the Governor of Assam, 
and the Governor is the agent of the Government of 
India, in the External Affairs Ministry. The Assam 
Rifles wiU of course remain there and such other forces 
as vUI be necessary will be sent, but they will function 
now under the Army Authorities and their Head- 
quarters”. 

Incredible as it seems now in retrospect, Parliament 
and the Press were satisfied with the Prime Minister’s 
“arrangements” to defend the borders. There were 
no probing questions, and no one asked where the 
additional forces were to come from. Surely the Army 
did not have surplus troops standing by for just such a 
contingency? The Army had always been restricted 
both in its man-power and its budget to ceilings fixed 
by the Cabinet. Were troops to be \rithdrawn from 
the Pakistan borders? If so what diplomatic action 
was proposed to ensure that we did not get involved 
with Pakistan while we were undertaking this additional 
commitment? Did Government seriously mean to 
take on both China and Pakistan simultaneously? 
Would the Government need more money to meet 
this extra commitment? If so what were the Govern- 
ment’s supplementary budget proposals? Was there 
to be an increase in the strength of the Army? Had 
the Army the necessary mountain warfare equipment ? 

I have merely indicated the type of questions that 
should have agitated Members of Parliament and 
spurred the Press to editorial comment to keep Govern- 
ment on its toes, and not get away with “paper pre- 
parations”. 

The Prime Minister spoke for the first time of 
defending our border, and using the Army to do so, 
but there was no long-term appreciation of the Chinese 
threat and possible Chinese reactions. Mr. Nehru 
did not link border incidents with aggressive Chinese 
intentions. Right up to 1962, the Prime Minister 
treated recurring Chinese aggression as isolated in- 



42 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


cidcnts, and no serious military response -was contem- 
plated or ordered. He did not link them with the" 
overall boundary dispute, China’s territorial claims 
or her ideological differences with India. In thfe 
circumstances he could not formulate any National 
Policy worth the name. 

In September 1959 China laid formal claim to 
some 50,000 square miles of Indian territory in Ladakh 
and NEFA. It was only in 1961 that the Government 
considered it necessary to take “limited defence measures 
to contain Chinese incursions into Indian territory” 
{Chinese Aggression in War and Peace , Government of 
India Publication, 1962). 

All along he stressed the remoteness of these areas 
and admitted, “There is no actual demarcation (in 
Ladakh)”. Once when questioned about Chinese 
intentions, he said, “I cannot imagine that all this is 
a precursor of anything more serious. I do not think 
they will attack”. 

Mr. Menon has since confirmed this approach to 
the China problem. He is reported to have said, “We 
were all the time, either because of lack of knowledge 
of these matters, or because the legions concerned were 
far away, or for other reasons, trying not to look upon 
it as a major conflict but as something we could resolve 
ultimately. From 1958 onwards we tried to reassert 
ourselves in these areas”. At another time a Govern- 
ment spokesman minimised the whole border question 
and dismissed the entire area as “wasteland * where 
not even a blade of grass grows”. 

Fariiamentary - t hinking remained’ clouded' over 
the Sino-Indian border problem. The problem 
continued to get mixed up with domestic politics. 
Defence debates were used to air their own ideological 
beliefs and personal feuds, and the national interests 
got lost in the verbiage. • ■ 

The powerful Congress ruling Party was made up 
of heterogenous elements from princes to paupers; 



THE TWILIGHT YEARS - 1955 TO 1959 


43 


extreme Right to extreme. Left. Welles Hangen has 
aptly summed up the Party as “Huge, amorphous 
coalition of conflicting interests united in little but, their 
self-interest”. Such a party could not tackle the 
.Chinese problem. No attempt at a non-party foreign 
policy was made. In any case Mr. Nehru had never 
permitted foreign affairs to be decided by anyone but 
himself, advised by Mr. Menon and a few External 
Affairs Ministry officials. 

Without meaningful debates, with a compliant 
Parliament and an adoring public, Mr. Nehru was left 
to Iris own judgement and he continued to drift along, 
living in fond hopes of a peaceful settlement of the 
Sino-Indian Border dispute. Later, in 1961-62 he 
succumbed to taunts from Right Opposition Parties and 
tried to simulate a posture of resolute determination to 
guard India’s frontiers. He may have quietened his 
critics but he did not dissuade the Chinese from over- 
running our pitiful military outposts. 

Despite the clear lessons of Khenzemane and 
Longju our political and military thinking continued 
to be beset by doubts, inertia and lethargy. We learnt 
no lessons. 

Let us take the Khenzemane incident first. . Khen- 
zemane is at the eastern end of the ' Thagla Ridge, 
which was to be the scene of the opening round of the 
1962 War with China. As is well known, the Chinese 
do not officially accept the McMahon Line as the 
boundary between India and Tibet, as they contend 
that they were not signatory to the Simla Convention 
of 1913-14. ■ In so far as the alignment of the McMahon 
Line, in the Thagla Ridge-Khenzemane sector is 
concerned, they claim that the -Line runs through the 
Drokung Samba Bridge, some two miles inside our 
territory. That is why they pushed our men back to 
this Bridge. Even Mr. Nehru said vaguely, “According 
to us there is an international boundary”. In the 1960 
talks with Chinese officials, the Chinese delegation 



42 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


cidents, and no serious military response "was contem- 
plated or ordered. He did not link them^ with the 
overall boundary dispute, China’s territorial claims 
or her ideological differences with India. In the 
circumstances he could not formulate any National 
Policy worth the name. 

In September 1959 China laid formal claim to 
some 50,000 square miles of Indian territory in Ladakh 
and NEFA. It was only in 1961 that the Government 
considered it necessary to take “limited defence measures 
to contain Chinese incursions into Indian territory 51 
(Chinese Aggression in War and Peace , Government of 
India Publication, 1962} * 

All along he stressed the remoteness of these areas 
and admitted, “There is no actual demarcation (in 
Ladakh)”. Once when questioned about Chinese 
intentions, he said, “I cannot imagine that all this is 
a precursor of anything more serious. I do not think 
they will attack”. 

Mr. Menon has since confirmed this approach to 
the China problem. He is reported to have said, “We 
were all the time, either because of lack of knowledge 
of these matters, or because the regions concerned were 
far away, or for other reasons, trying not to look upon 
it as a major conflict but as something we could resolve 
ultimately. From 1958 onwards we tried to reassert 
ourselves in these areas”. At another time a Govern- 
ment spokesman minimised the whole border question 
and dismissed the entire area as “wasteland ' where 
not even a blade of grass grows”. 

Parliamentary’ thinking remained clouded over 
the ^ Sino-Indian border problem. The problem 
continued to get mixed up with domestic politics. 
Defence debates were used to air their own ideological 
beliefs and personal feuds, and the national interests 
got lost in the verbiage. • • 

The powerful Congress ruling Party was made up 
of heterogenous elements from princes to paupers; 



THE TWILIGHT YEARS - 1955 TO 1959 43 

extreme Right to extreme, Left. Welles Hangen has 
aptly summed' up the Party as “Huge, amorphous 
coalition of conflicting interests united in little but their 
self-interest”. Such a party could not tackle the 
.Chinese problem. No attempt at a non-party foreign 
policy was made. In any case Mr. Nehru had never 
permitted foreign affairs to be decided by anyone but 
himself, advised by Mr. Menon and a few External 
Affairs Ministry officials. 

Without meaningful debates, with a compliant 
Parliament and an adoring public, Mr. Nehru was left 
to his own judgement and he continued to drift along, 
living in fond hopes of a peaceful settlement of the 
Sino-Indian Border dispute. Later, in 1961-62 he 
succumbed to taunts from Right Opposition Parties and 
tried to simulate a posture of resolute determination to 
guard India’s frontiers. He may have quietened his 
critics but he did not dissuade the Chinese from over- 
running our pitiful military outposts. 

Despite the clear lessons of Khenzemane and 
Longju our political and military thinking continued 
to be beset by doubts, inertia and lethargy. Wc learnt 
no lessons. 

Let us take the Khenzemane incident first. Khen- 
zemane is at the eastern end of the Thagla Ridge, 
which was to be the scene of the opening round of the 
1962 War with China. As is well known, the Chinese 
do not officially accept the McMahon Line as the 
boundary between India and Tibet, as they contend 
that they were not signatory to the Simla Convention 
of 1913-14. In so far as the alignment of the McMahon 
Line, in the Thagla Ridge-Khenzemane sector is 
concerned, they claim that the Line runs through the 
Drokung Samba Bridge, some two miles inside our 
tenitory. That is why they pushed our men back to 
this Bridge. Even Mr. Nehru said vaguely, “According 
to us there is an international boundary”. In the 1960 
talks with Chinese officials, the Chinese delegation 



44 HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 

raised many probing questions about the exact align- 
ment of the boundary in this area. The matter was 
not settled amicably, and this area remained disputed 
on a matter of detail, without prejudice to the larger 
issue of the legality of the McMahon Line. As we shall 
sec later, it was an unwise act to set up a post (Dhola), 
in May-Junc 1962, in the same area, without the 
military force to sustain our interpretation of the Line, 
by force if necessary. This was the first major mistake 
in the tragic events of 1962. 

In both incidents it will be noted that the Chinese 
considerably out-numbered us. Our posts were always 
a dozen or so men, with no reinforcements at hand, 
isolated and dependent on air-supply. When con- 
fronted by superior Chinese forces they could offer no 
worthwhile resistance. Despite the known difficulties, 
more similar posts were opened up, in 1961-62, under 
the ill-conceivcd “Forward Policy”. Dhola which was 
one such post had only 40 men and could offer no 
resistance. All the commander could do was to raise 
an alarm. Dhola was used as a bait by the Chinese 
to lure us to the Namka Chu, denude our defences at 
Towang and open the road to the plains of Assam. 

We were taken in neatly by the Chinese tactics. 
The Prime Minister talked about “Requesting the 
Chinese to withdraw . . . there was no firing . . . 
they pushed us back — actually pushed us back . . . they 
stood facing each other, then retired . . . the Chinese 
withdrew . . . the Chinese came back and demanded 
our withdrawal ... we refused . . . and there the 
matter ended". We accepted this as the modus operandi 
of the Chinese. There would be no escalation and no 
war. This kind of fallacious thinking and reasoning 
led us to accept battle in a remote death-trap in the 
Dhola area post, in 1962. When the Chinese used 
maximum force we were surprised. 

In Longju, “the Chinese fired . . . there were no 
casualties . . . they surrounded our post-picket . . 



THE TWILIGHT YEARS - 1955 TO 1959 


45 


they apprehended our men (this was a more ominous 
development than just pushing our men) . . . our 
picket ultimately withdrew under pressure”. So we 
deduced anew that the Chinese were still playing parlour 
games and did not intend to fight. 

Mr. Nehru himself admitted the vast distances 
and the difficult logistics problem in the Himalayan 
border areas. Longju was three weeks from a road- 
head, but then so was Dhola post. The difficulties of 
Dhola were conveniently ignored when we decided and 
announced, that we were going to evict the Chinese. 
The Longju incident gave us a foretaste of the diffi- 
culties in store for us in NEFA. The defenders ran 
out of ammunition, and air-supply was not possible due 
to bad weather (as August and September are monsoon 
months). Possibly the Air Force was short of aircraft 
or there was no supply-dropping equipment. The 
sorties that did get through missed the dropping zone. 
All this was to be repeated in 1962. We learnt nothing 
nor, apparently, did we wish to learn anything. In 
1962 we relied entirely on air-drops involving thousands 
of tons and under worse conditions. Air-drops became 
an end in themselves; what the forward troops could 
collect was secondary. 

Predictably, after both incidents, we sent protest 
notes about the Chinese misbehaviour. The Chinese 
misbehaviour was only one of pushing, prodding, and 
protest notes! 

Handing over the borders to the Army was a 
meaningless gesture, without the additional resources 
required. In fact, we made a bad situation worse by 
^. ra .Sg* n S in the Army and allowing the Chinese to 
claim that the Indians were bent on war. The Chinese 
went to great lengths to tell the world they only used 
“Frontier Guards”. We did not increase our vigilance 
or our preparedness, and only misled our friends who 
were stunned by our defeats, when we had claimed that 
wc had started preparations as early as 1959. The 



46 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Army was again embroiled in a thankless task without 
the tools to carry out the job. In the next chapter we 
shall trace the deployment of the Army, and sec how 
the moves actually took place. 

The last major incident of 1959 took place in 
Ladakh on 20th October. The Chinese ambushed a 
police party, under Havildar Karam Singh, about 
40 miles inside our own territory, while it was on a 
routine patrol in the Chang Chenmo Valley, south of 
Kongka Pass. The Chinese later claimed that our 
party had intruded into Chinese territory'. Wc lost 
9 killed and 10 were taken prisoners. This incident 
really inflamed public opinion, as our Army always 
seemed to be at the receiving end of Chinese acts of 
aggression. 

By the end of 1959 there was no longer any room 
for doubts or complacency. Even Mr. Menon has 
since asserted that from that time onwards Government 
was not “inactive”. A clash of arms was a near 
certainty if the border problem was not negotiated 
across a table ; and it was no longer a question of minor 
adjustments and delineating boundaries by consulting 
old documents, but the prospect of war over a vast area 
of our inhospitable northern regions. The Chinese had 
given us clear warning that they were serious, and 
were not averse to a fight if tins was unavoidable. 
They had used force, and come what may they' were 
going to sustain their rights and claims with Mao Tse 
Tung’s famous “barrel of the gun”. 

The Army did not share the complacency' of the 
country and were wary of the Chinese. The facile 
optimism of Parliamentary statements obviously could 
not remove the harsh realities of terrain and our in- 
adequacies. General Thimayya, the Army Chief, had 
always warned Government about the Chinese threat. 
As early as 1959 he had informed Government of what 
would be required in men and material to contain the 
Chinese. He -was dubbed pro-West by Air. Menon 



THE TWILIGHT YEARS - 1955 TO 1959 


47 


and an alarmist by officialdom. Anyway with civil 
supremacy Government would tell him when and 
what to do about the Chinese. General Thimayya 
returned Mr. Menon’s compliment and labelled him a 
Communist. Mr. Menon still kept harping on Pakistan 
being the Number One Enemy of India to divert the 
Indian people from the real and imminent Chinese 
danger. General Thimayya did not subscribe to the 
theory of numbering our likely enemies. 

General Thimayya had for some years before 
becoming the Chief, been aware that the Army was 
overstretched, with commitments far in excess of its 
resources. The additional commitment of the North- 
East Frontier Agency and Ladakh could not be fulfilled 
without increasing its strength and organising an assured 
supply system. New weapons, new organisations, roads 
and accommodation were prerequisites before we could 
contemplate major operations in the Himalayas. 

A month after the incidents at Khenzemane and 
Longju we witnessed the unfortunate clash between the 
Defence Minister and the Army Chief. A great deal 
of inspired publicity was given to Menon’s alleged 
interference with senior Army promotions and other 
petty procedural matters. 

General Thimayya submitted his resignation to 
Nehru. Mr. Nehru handled the impasse like a seasoned 
politician, used his immense authority and his personal 
charm on the straightforward soldier and persuaded 
him . to withdraw his resignation. He promised to 
consider the General’s requests personally and intervene 
with the Defence Minister. Later Nehru publicly 
stated that he thought that Thimayya was making an 
issue over trivial matters. He defended Menon against 
bitter criticism and said that Thimayya’s resignation 
was due to “temperamental differences” with Menon. 
He dismissed the General’s charges of interference as 
“rather trivial and of no consequence”. He publicly 
chided the General and reproached him for “wanting 



48 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


to quit in the midst of the Sino-Indian border crisis”. 
He also made a statement deprecating soldiers coercing 
the Civil Authority -which must remain supreme m a 
democracy. Nehru won his Pyrrhic victory but lived 
to regret it. In 1962 he was compelled to replace those 
he had publicly defended and was forced to recall 
General Thimayya, after the NEFA Reverses, to lend 
respectability to the National Defence Council which 
was set up to assure the people against further military 
adventures. 

I cannot resist an aside. Here we see Mr. Nehru 
using the so-called Sino-Indian border crisis to subdue 
General Thimayya. We know that the same crisis 
has been used to extract taxes from a reluctant Parlia- 
ment. If he sincerely believed in the existence of a 
real crisis why was he guilty of neglecting the defences 
of the nation? How is it possible to reconcile his 
appreciation of a Chinese threat with his subsequent 
statement that China was too weak and preoccupied 
to start a war with India? To an Indian it is always 
distressing to find evidence that Mr. Nehru was a human 
politician. His subsequent actions are irreconcilable 
with his assertion that there was a Sino-Indian border 
crisis at the time of the Thimayya-Menon episode. 

The more likely probability is that Menon and 
Thimayya fell out over the Government’s China 
Policy. General Thimayya was a seasoned, disciplined 
soldier who needed no lessons in elementary patriotism. 
He would hardly have made an issue over trifles. Only 
over-riding national interests would have provoked him 
to the extreme step of resignation; and later withdraw 
the resignation in dutiful obedience to his Prime 
IMinister. If he was unbalanced and prone to make 
issues oyer trifles, Mr. Nehru should not have appointed 
him Chief of the Army - the choice was entirely his 
an .d _ his alone. Thimayya had always harboured 
misgivings about Chinese motives and intentions. In 
one of his rare public statements (in June I960) he 



THE TWILIGHT YEARS - 1955 TO 1959 


49 


said, “Reports so far indicate that the Chinese had 
certainly made heavy concentrations along some °f our 
border areas, and what worries me is the motive of the 
build-up. China had the advantage of an early start in 
developing border communications . . . Indian border 
posts had to encounter tremendous natural obstacles . 

The General’s worries were brushed aside as the 
Government’s thinking, at the time, was that there 
was nothing sinister in the quantum of Chinese forces 
in Tibet. It was accepted- that the Army divisions 
were located there to suppress the rebellious Khampas 
and to maintain law and order. Their presence did 
not signify any war preparations against India. 

Mr. Nehru’s biographers will have a difficult time 
explaining his inexplicable descent to ordinary norms 
of behaviour to save a colleague at the expense ol 
jeopardising the defence of his country. Pettiness and 
selfishness are not qualities that one would wish to 
associate with a man of the stature of Mr. Nehru. 

General Thimayya was the ablest of India’s generals 
and easily the best-loved — a rare combination. He was 
popularly known as ‘Timmy’. He was the most out- 
standing field commander in the Indian Army and was 
the first and only Indian to command a fighting brigade 
in battle in the Arakan, in World War II. He won the 
British Distinguished Service Order on the battlefield. 
North Indian soldiers, the bulk of the Army, loved him 
as much as the rest. This is a rare tribute. 

In 1947 he commanded the Punjab Boundary 
Force, during the critical post-Partition days, when 
murder, massacre and madness were the order of the 
day. He was a big man in every way and when most 
people had lost their heads, he remained calm, scrupu- 
lously fair and absolutely honest in his dealings with 
Hindus and Muslims alike. He did an outstanding 
job of this difficult and thankless assignment. 

In 1948, soon after the Punjab disturbances, he 
commanded the Indian Forces in the Kashmir Valley 


50 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDEtt 


where he won some notable successes and military 
victories in areas where no modern armies had ever 
operated. He had cleared the Kashmir Valley of the 
enemy and was poised to free the Pakistan-held portion 
of Kashmir when the war was called off by Nehru, for 
reasons that have never been revealed. 

He later served as a Principal Staff Officer at Army 
HQ, and Army Commander. His military' background 
was impeccable and he had not lost years on quasi- 
military assignments at the behest c>f politicians. 

His personal qualities matched his military' talents 
and experience. As a commander he had a magic 
touch with both officers and men. dn all my service 
of over 25 years I have never heard an ill-word spoken 
against him; or had an unwise military’ decision attri- 
buted to him. This is the highest praise and tribute 
that can be paid to an officer, a gallant gentleman and 
an outstanding soldier. 

He achieved international fame as a result of his 
work on the International Commission in Korea, in 
1953-54. He was one of the few Indians who was 
nationally famous and who was a potential rival to the 
prima doima of the Indian stage -- Mr. Nehru. He 
could not be brow-beaten, bullied or summarily dis- 
missed as Mr. Nehru was wont to do with some other 
more pliable and submissive Chie&- His war record 
made his professional advice meaningful and difficult 
to ignore. No wonder the Times of India wrote at tire 
time of his assumption of office, irt March 1957: “A 
thrill has just passed through the Army. The signal 
has. gone out that Timmy is on”- The Army had 
waited hopefully for the day when Timmy would be 
the Chief. 

For some years prior to becoming Chief, General 
Tlrimayya had smarted at the neglect of the Army. 
Tire Army in turn knew that he was the only General 
who knew what had to be done and who had the 
authority to put things right. 



THE TWILIGHT YEARS - 1935 TO 1939 51 

I had the great pleasure and invaluable experience 
of serving closely with this great man, in operational 
and organisational matters, during my tenure in 
Military Operations Directorate. I knew with what 
energy and enthusiasm he started trying to repair 
the damage done to the Army, and I saw his confidence 
being gradually eroded because he could make little 
headway against an indifferent and often hostile (and 
ignorant) Ministry of Defence, under Mr. Menon. 
He retired a sad and disillusioned man, his advice 
regarding China ignored and the Army in the same 
state of unreadiness for its ordained tasks. In one of 
his farewell speeches before relinquishing command, he 
told his audience: “I hope that I am not leaving you 
as cannon-fodder for the Chinese. God bless you all”. 

As a disciplined officer he had accepted the advice 
and assurances of his Prime Minister and had withdrawn 
his resignation. Resignation is the last constitutional 
resort of a Service Chief in a democratic set-up, to focus 
national attention on a fundamental issue to give the 
Nation an opportunity to debate the points of dis- 
agreement between the Civil and Military authorities. 
In a democracy, this is the only safeguard against 
incompetent, unscrupulous or ambitious politicians. 
He bravely bore the humiliations heaped on him by 
Nehru in Parliament, but he was never again the same 
man. He had only one ambition left and that was to 
preside over the Centenary celebrations of his beloved 
Kumaonis > while still the Chief. It was a sad end to 
the most distinguished soldier India is likely to have 
in decades. 

In his last days of office he undoubtedly lost some 
of his personal hold on the officers and the other Services 
who resented the withdrawal of his resignation. Some- 
thing drastic was necessary to move Government to 
face the realities of a conflict with China or Pakistan, 
and only Timmy had the necessary stature. Many 
felt that he should have resigned a second time, after 



52 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Nehru’s injudicious Parliamentary statement. I am 
firmly of the opinion that had he done so, Mr. Menon 
would not have emerged the all-powerful figure who 
contributed so much to India’s humiliation in September 
and October 1962. A second resignation, with the 
additional disclosure of differences, would have put the 
pressure on Nehru. Powerful enemies, many within 
the Congress Party; a hostile Press and others were 
waiting to destroy Menon and only General Thimayya 
could have given, them the excuse and the opportunity. 
Mr. Nehru would have had to face the awkward 
dilemma of having to sack either Menon or Thimayya. 
Had he been forced to sack Menon under strong 
pressure from Parliament and the Press, he would 
have been a chastened man. Such a reverse would 
also have had a salutary effect on his own ego and 
would have demolished the aura of infallibility and 
indispensability that was built around him, in spite of 
the democratic system that was given to us in the 
Constitution. 

As it was, Menon emerged the victor and Timmy’s 
advice was no longer decisive. Mr. Nehru also came 
out of this unsavoury episode the unquestioned master, 
and now there was no one in the Army to oppose his 
wrong military polity vis-a-vis China. He now received 
advice only from Mr. Menon and the latter’s chosen 
coterie of soldiers and officials who were walling to 
play at war with China without expecting to wound or 
to be wounded. A game of chess with posts instead 
of pawns! 

History is replete with 'ife\ If only General 
Thimayya had stuck to his guns, would India have 
been saved the ignominy of 1962 and the subsequent 
political upheavals, financial distress, the suffering of 
the people and the international humiliation? 

Government did not offer him a Governorship or 
Ambassadorship, when lesser generals were rewarded 
with such high positions. Employment after retirement 



General K. S. Thima)>a, Cluef of Army Staff (I960) arming to take 
the salute at the Passing Out Parade of the Indian Military Academy* 
escorted by the author. 

"The trail dutmzuiihed 10 Idler Irdia it W(/» to halt in decadet." (pg. 51) 






THE TWILIGHT YEARS — 1955 TO 1959 53 

was a powerful weapon used by Government to keep 
Service Brass in tow. I have not read of one instance 
where an Ambassadorial appointment was questioned 
by the Press. General Timmy was rescued from the 
obscurity of the South Indian Coffee Board and 
appointed Chief of the U.N. Force in Cyprus where 
he died in December 1965, in the saddle. One of 
India’s greatest post-Independence figures died in the 
international arena, but no thanks are due to the 
Indian Government for this. 

During the years 1954-59 there were serious 
shortcomings in our National Policy. We did not build 
up the nation’s will to fight and to accept the sacrifices 
without which no country can ensure its security. We 
gave the impression of not knowing what we wanted, 
appeared confused and wavered between the implacable 
will to fight and a desire to appease the Chinese. 

We relied on untenable diplomatic assurances to 
ward off the Pakistan and Chinese threats. We did not 
initiate diplomatic measures to ensure that we were 
not isolated in a war with either Pakistan or China. 

We accepted a situation where we would be per- 
petually in a state of armed readiness, a suicidal policy 
for a developing country. We allowed ourselves to be 
lulled into complacency by the outward manifestations 
of friendship with China. When the Chinese threat 
became unmistakable, we had no ready answer. 

To sum up, we did not plan for war nor did we 
have diplomatic ties which would ensure timely aid 
in the event of war. We frittered away a large portion 
of our meagre resources without ensuring our security. 
In 1959, India lacked a firm, unequivocal policy, had 
no declared friends to assist her against China and no 
military power to challenge China. 

Major-General B. M. Kaul was promoted Lt.- 
General and brought to Delhi in July 1959 as the 
Quarter Master General of the Army. It was widely 
believed at the time that this was done by Mr. Menon 



54 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


against the recommendation or advice of the Army 
Chief, General Thimayya. Welles Hangen suggests 
that Mr. Menon chose Kaul because he (Menon) felt 
that Kaul was far to the Left of the other conservative 
generals in Delhi. Whatever the reasons, the Menon- 
Kaul era began and these two began to have an in- 
creasingly decisive voice in policy matters. The harmony 
and cohesion of Army HQ were inevitably affected 
due to the barely concealed antagonism between the 
Chief and one of his Principal Staff Officers, especially 
as it was believed that Kaul had the backing of Menon 
and had access to the Prime Minister. Tliis was a 
dangerous development, as Army HQ, had to speak 
with one voice In the crucial years tfratTay ahead. 

I served in Army HQ from 1954 to July 1959 
and saw at first hand, the way we handled the Chinese 
problem, as well as the changing military’ situation 
vis-a-vis Pakistan. I left with some misgivings about 
the future and wondered what was in store for us. The 
negligence and damage of the years could not easily 
be repaired. General Thimayya was at the fag-end 
of his career and with his retirement in April 1961, we 
would lose the last hope of highlighting the Army’s 
requirements; and maintaining the balance between 
the hopes of the country and the minimum military 
preparedness. 



Chapter V 


The Army Mans the Border- — 1959/60 

Although the Prime Minister had announced in 
August 1959, to the Lok Sabha, that the Army had 
taken over the NEFA border, it was only in November 
of that year that the actual moves of regular troops 
could take place. The gap of three months in imple- 
menting the Prime Minister’s order is most revealing 
and can be explained by the Army’s reluctance to get 
implicated precipitously in the Himalayas. The final 
prod may well have been provided by the Karam Singh 
episode of October 1959. 

The Chinese incidents of August and October 
1959 were beautifully timed. There was some discord 
and heart-burning in the relations between the Ministry 
of Defence and Army HQ, as a result of the Menon- 
Thimayya clash; the weather in the Himalayas would 
soon close and we would have little time to move, 
quarter troops and organise proper administrative 
arrangements. There was bound to be more than a 
little dissatisfaction among the troops deployed and 
.their morale would be affected. This did happen 
and the operation started with a lot of heart-burn- 
ing and mutual recrimination. The Indian jawan 
does not understand high politics and he blames his 
officers if things appear to be senseless, pointless and 
wrong. 

Having provoked us and baited us into an un- 
planned and hasty action, the Chinese retreated to the 
warmth and comparative comfort of their winter 
quarters — generally requisitioned monasteries. On 
our side troops suffered unspeakable hardships in their 
first winter, without achieving any worthwhile object. 
We learnt one more wrong lesson, viz. that a military 



56 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


problem is solved by the mere despatch of regular troops 
to the scene of trouble. 

The world-renowned 4 Indian Division was 
rushed from the plains of the Punjab to Assam for 
deployment in the North East Frontier Agency. This 
Division was organised, equipped and trained for war- 
fare in the plains -i.e. open country. Its transport 
and artillery were unsuitable for mountain warfare. 
In fact much heavy equipment was left behind in the 
foothills and useful man-power was wasted in main- 
taining this impedimenta. The officers and men were 
not acclimatised for high altitudes. As usual, compelling 
political pressure forced the deployment of the wrong 
troops, at the wrong place and at the wrong time. 

The actual move was a compulsive reaction to 
events. To illustrate, I will recount the move of 
1/9 Gorkha Rifles from the Simla Hills to NEFA, and 
the course of their induction into Towang. The battalion 
was stationed in the beautiful hill cantonment of 
Dagshai. One evening in November 1959 the officers 
had assembled in the Officers’ Mess prior to proceeding 
to the unit lines of a sister battalion, 2 Jats, to attend 
the celebrations of the latter’s Raising Day. Before 
the officers had embussed a despatch rider from Brigade 
HQ, arrived with an important message for the 
Officiating Commanding Officer. This officer did not 
disclose the contents of the message till the officers 
returned from 2 Jats, late at night. He then informed 
everyone that 4 Division, less a few units, had been 
ordered to move to NEFA in the next fortnight. 

hratcaiRny ini ‘iTirh ^ovenioer and 

reached Misamari on the 29th. The rest of the Brigade 
concentrated in the following week. The snows had 
set in and any further advance into the heights of 
NEFA was ruled out in the prevailing conditions. To 
keep the troops occupied a jungle training camp was 
established at the Foothills camp, about 14 miles from 
Misamari. 



THE ARMY MANS THE BORDER - 1959/60 57 

4 Division was given the task of defending the 
entire McMahon Line from the Bhutan Tri-junction 
to the Burma border, a distance of over 360 miles. 
There were no roads and no laterals; access to each 
sector being from the Brahmaputra Valley. There 
were no shelters for the troops and no animal transport. 
This precipitate deployment was of no military value, 
especially as incidents were unlikely in the winter. 

However there was complete satisfaction in Delhi 
where maps of NEFA sprouted in the offices of the big 
Brass, with little pins showing our defence preparations. 
A little blue pin-head- can be very satisfying and re- 
assuring in Delhi. Politicians can get up in the Lok 
Sabha and assert that Government had initiated 
military counter-measures to prevent any further 
incursions by the Chinese. 

The deployment and quantum of troops were 
dictated solely and entirely by the administrative 
capacity, which was in turn dependent on the available 
air-lift and supply dropping equipment. There was 
no question of deploying units or formations to fulfil 
any assessed task. Indeed I doubt whether we had any 
policy or task other than to “defend our borders”. The 
induction of the maximum numbers that could be 
maintained became the end and not the means for 
implementing operational plans. If we had any 
National Policy and National Aim we would have 
appreciated the futility of sending our men into the 
wilderness of NEFA, without a purpose and without a 
military task. 

The move of the Brigade was not co-ordinated 
with the civil authorities, i.e. the NEFA Administration 
which was under the Ministry of External Affairs. The 
move of the Army appeared to be an ad-hoc decision 
and not as the result of the deliberations of the Defence 
Committee of the Cabinet. I have heard that the 
NEFA officials and the Assam Rifles {also under the 
Ministry of External Affairs) did not relish the idea of 



58 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


the Army poaching in their territory and private 
domain. One responsible civil official is reported to 
have said, in January I960, that Government was 
considering the withdrawal of the Army. Apparently 
he did not seem to understand the need for regular 
troops as he was satisfied that the Assam Rifles were 
perfectly capable of ensuring the “defence” of the 
region, since there was no serious threat from our 
great neighbour. This attitude prevailed for a long 
time and was displayed whenever the Army approached 
the Civil Authority for help in the way of accommo- 
dation, porters, ponies and so on. They showed apathy 
and indifference if not actual hostility. 

In January 1960, one company of the Gorkhas 
was sent to establish a camp at Bomdilla. In February 
a second company was ordered to move to Towang 
and establish a base. After undergoing incredible 
hardships they reached in March. The whole battalion 
eventually concentrated in Towang by August 1960- 
almost one year after the Prime Minister had “handed 
over the border” to the Army. At this time one 
battalion was located in Dirang and one at Tenga. 
The Brigade HQ, was at Bomdilla. In 1961 one 
company was sent to Pankentang on the Bumla- 
Towang axis, and one company to Shakti on the 
Khenzem ane-T ow ang route. 

In the initial stages the Regular Army was driven 
to scrounge some life-saving shelters from the Assam 
Rifles and the Administration - a ridiculous state of 
affairs. The first Gorkha company to reach Towang 
was lucky to be given one hutment and the Inspection 
Bungalow. Other administrative arrangements were 
equally unsatisfactory. There was an amusing story 
circulating in the Army in those days. A Lieut.- Colonel 
known for his pungent wit and sense of humour, got 
so fed up with the lack of any sort of supply system* that 
he decided to use some heavy sarcasm and act in a 



THE ARMY MANS THE BORDER — 1959 69 


59 


facetious maimer. He is reported to have sent one of 
his monthly routine reports on a “chappatti” (a flat 
unleavened bread). This caused some consternation 
in the rear. He was asked to forward Ins “explanation”. 
He sent the now classic retort, “I regret the unorthodox 
nature of my stationer)', but atta (flour) is the only 
commodity I have for fighting, for feeding and for 
futile correspondence”. (The quotation is obviously 
not verbatim.) 

One of the main problems faced by the Army was 
the selection of sites for b uildin g accommodation for 
the troops. As usual there was no co-c>rdinating agency 
and these details were left to local initiative. The 
Civilians were averse to the location of the Army in 
Towang proper, although it was the only suitable 
place both tactically and for receiving air-drops on 
which the garrison relied for survival. There were the 
usual conferences to settle this vexed question. At 
these meetings the Civil would spell out their grandiose 
plans for developing Towang into a health and holiday 
resort and brought blue-prints indicating the future 
location of colleges, parks and housing projects. The 
Army was invited to find some other place away from 
Towang and Pankentang, at 14,000 feet, was magnani- 
mously offered to the soldiers. Eventually the matter 
was settled by some strong-arm tactics by the 
Commander, Brigadier Ranbir Singh, a tough, blunt 
Rajput. Exasperated by the comic deliberations of 
the “siting boards” he decided to enforce a unilateral 
settlement. One morning he planted his^ Commander’s 
pennant, the proud Red Eagle of 4 Division and staked 
liis claim to that particular piece of ground as the 
Command Post. He then sited the other elements of 
die Brigade and allotted unit lines without further ado. 
Tlie “Choi” bowed to the will of this fine soldier and 
despite some desuitor)’ murmurings and threats they 
accepted the fail accompli. General Officer Com- 
manding (GOG)- 4 Division later endorsed the action 



60 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


of his Brigade Commander and a potentially ugly 
situation was finally resolved amicably. 

Soon after the induction of regular troops into 
NEFA, General S. P. P. Thorat, General Officer 
Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command wrote an 
appreciation of the military situation facing us in 
NEFA, bringing out lucidly and thoroughly the terrain, 
communications, routes, vital ground and adminis- 
tration. He then enunciated the correct strategy to 
be employed in defending NEFA. I heard that this 
paper was seen by Mr. Chavan when he took over in 
November 1962 and he was aghast that we had ignored 
the advice of this capable General. 

From the outset General Thorat appreciated that 
the operative principle was the need to advance from 
secure bases. He correctly appreciated that the key 
to the defence of the Assam plains was around Bomdilla. 
He had also anticipated the only three routes that the 
Chinese used in 1962. (The Chinese spent two months 
in Kameng after their victory in 1962 and would 
undoubtedly have made copious notes of this fact!) 
The importance of Bomdilla was confirmed by three 
successive brigadiers who commanded in NEFA. 
Everyone agreed that any forward move should be 
undertaken only after consolidating Bomdilla. To put 
it simply, it was necessary to move from firm base to 
firm base, and not backward from the political 
boundaries of the country. Political and military 
boundaries seldom coincide. 

The McMahon Line cannot be defended by sitting 
on it. This se'ft-evident Tact cannot be altered by 
Parliamentary baiting or pressure of public opinion. 
Once Government decided to employ the Army to a 
possible war with China then the only aim should have 
been the destruction of the intruding Chinese. The 
Army cannot have its main aim diverted by such tasks 
as defendin g every inch of territory, ensuring the security 
of our territory, ensuring the security of every pass or 



Lt Col {now Brigadier) Maha S ngh Rikh gallant Commanding Officer 
of 2nd Rajputs in the battle of the Namka Chu in October I9b2 




The author (19^2) as Commanding Officer of -ilh Battalion, The Guard*, 
in regimental mess Lit. 



THE ARMY MANS THE BORDER - 1959/60 


61 


crossing place and not allowing a single intruder to 
enter our territory. The strategic deployment and 
dispositions of regular troops is dictated solely by the 
ground and administrative factors. This is even more 
applicable where the enemy has the political and 
strategic initiative, as in the case of the Chinese. 

As we have seen, General Thorat initially deployed 
only one infantry company in Towang, leaving the rest 
of the battalion in Bomdilla; and the Brigade further 
back. In the context of the border problem with China 
it may be necessary to set up check-posts, border-posts 
or flag-posts to establish our claims by physical posses- 
sion, and to provide day-to-day protection to the civil 
administration. They must not, however be treated 
as defended zones or tactical positions, to be defended 
to the last man and last round. 

General Thorat’s plan was made when NEFA had 
not been developed and the Border Roads Organ- 
isation had not begun operations. In 1960 the Chinese 
already had a network of good roads opposite NEFA. 
The General’s plan might have entailed the initial trading 
of space for time to rush fresh troops forward, establish 
communications, set up the administrative arrangements 
and above all, ascertain the main thrust of the enemy 
before committing his reserves. General Thorat’s 
plan, approved by his Chief, was not acceptable to 
Government. Government was dominated by the 
belief that a war with China was unlikely; and were 
pressed by the political necessity of appearing to defend 
the entire McMahon Line. Mr. Menon has recently 
(November 1967) set out the Government’s dilemma. 
In an interview with Mr. Inder Malhotra of the 
Statesman he has made the following observations: “It 
might have been useful to let them come into Indian 
territory in depth before giving them a fight. But this 
is a kind of thing which we were unable to persuade 
our public opinion to accept then and perhaps would 
be equally difficult to do so today or for some time to 



62 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


come”. He goes on to say, “So inflamed was public 
opinion that if any Defence Minister or Prime Minister 
had wanted to let the Chinese take our territory in the 
hope that we would take it back soon - which is some- 
thing quite necessary to do from the military point of 
view - he could not have done so”. He concludes, 
“Public opinion was built up by various parties some- 
times under the influence of foreign propaganda that 
we were never able to look at things objectively”. 
This statement clearly indicates that Menon had 
imbibed the advice of his military experts. His state- 
ment is a courageous admission, but does raise the point 
of whether the nation’s leaders arc expected to lead the 
nation or to dispense with military' principles and 
prudence under pressure from so nebulous a factor as 
public opinion, especially in India where such an 
opinion is difficult to assess. The justifiable dissatis- 
faction of a few alert Opposition members cannot be 
used as an excuse for rashness in a moment of crisis. 

Mr. Menon understood this aspect of strategy 
when he was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying 
(on 23rd April I960), “India does not want to fight 
over the Himalayan ranges, but if China has any 
intention of coming down the Himalayan slopes and 
entering the plains, then we are prepared to give her- 
a warm reception - warmer than she might expect”. 
Then why did he not educate his Opposition colleagues ? 

The second pertinent point is why was public 
opinion not educated to appreciate the realities of the 
confrontation with China? And lasdy were our 
leaders not to blame for making reassuring statements 
about our defence preparedness? My own reading is 
that the public have ieamt a lesson and the present 
Government has conducted its affairs with commendable 
courage and restraint. The reader will recall our 
dignified and calm reaction to the Chinese threats in 
the middle of the 1965 Indo-Pak War. We did not 
panic when the Chinese were reported to have crossed 



THE ARMY MAKS THE BORDER - 1939/150 63 

the McMahon Line in the Thagla Ridge area and 
reached Hathungla Pass in 1964. The last and most 
notable example was the conduct of the major battle 
at Nathu La Pass in September 1962. After exchanging 
blow for blow we offered a cease-fire as evidence of our 
strength and restraint. The Indian public, having 
faith in their present leadership, was content to leave 
the matter to Government and made no attempt to 
hustle the issue. Public opinion is an unsatisfactory 
reason for abandoning the basic canons of war. 

Prior to 1962, Government’s solution to the 
military problem of defending the border was to locate 
a string of small, weak outposts backed by company 
strength detachments of regular troops, all along the 
border. Parliament and the public could then be 
told that our borders were being adequately guarded. 

Our politicians had not studied military history, 
nor did they have the humility to listen to tne advice 
of capable generals who had. Indian politicians are 
the only ones in the world who have had no experience 
of war. According to the Military Correspondent of 
the Statesman , “They know nothing of military affairs 
and are not prepared to learn. This applies equally 
to the nabobs of the Ministries of External Affairs and 
Defence. Hence the gap between the Civilian and 
soldier”. 

In difficult terrain, be it mountain, jungle or 
snow-covered steppe, it is sometimes militarily un- 
avoidable to trade space for time. This is a stark 
military fact. Military history affords many examples 
to prove this. In war the primary aim is the destruction 
of enemy forces. It is not the holding of impossible 
ground for political reasons or the undertaking of 
operations to appease an aroused public opinion. 

Both in 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia and 
in 1941 when Hitler launched an invasion, the Russians 
drew the advancing armies deep into Russian territory. 
They relied on their most formidable weapons - snow 



64 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


knoZ -.Tr d , drc: ‘ clc ' 1 s P nn S thaw (facetiously 
known as Generals January and February) which turns 
Russia into a vast sea of mud, that hrinU armii to a 

vitahtv^of’th' H n b ° d ‘ CaSCS ,he Russians sapped the 
mighty and ° n botb °«™i°ns 

uugnty Russian countcr-oircnsivcs regained all Inst 
tern tones .and destroyed or ejected Sfa '° St 

In 1944, Field-Marshal Sir William Slim 
Commander of the British/Indian 14 Army faced 

ai3 0 miTmurinr°,T CnS r fr ° m Burma int ° Indi; h 

a p=- “LSrf 

not \ h o e ahs' 

considerations. Had )ir» ‘ U ? S ^^rcly ° n military 
positions on the Chind • D C ou S^ 1 t t ^ rom his forward 
cation would hav^ n , R,Vcr > his Lincs ofCommuni- 
would open the ivavZo’Th 8 - n , d . tenuous. A defeat 
decision to fall backend l u C p ains ° r Assam. His 
better killing ground a? l sb< ? rtcn hls lines, and to a 
Commander 8 General Mm*”? 1 f° r ecd the Japanese 
By standing ? lch, .> to cxtend his lincs - 

the ou,bre!k of thf mn deSpi "i bcing invested, till 
The Japanese could S ° ons ! ™tory seas assured, 
to retreat. The Here t . mamtain their forces and had 
Field-Marshal Slim fobn "T S ° overwhelming that 
with the classic p^rsu ed Up his Kohima ™tory 
which fell i n M a P Ig “' °PeraUon to Rangoon itself, 

Himalayas were^vell'e 1 ' 51 ' 1 '- 3110113 a PpHcable to the 
son, the Military CorrranZf"^ Brigadier Thomp- 
Wnungon 12th NovembeMww* V l ^ ,a P h - 

Chinese invasion, he said “Tt? 2, A* - the height of 1116 
land access as they have’ t, 1 u M ,. nesc bave better 
and airfields since the,. bem bmIdlng frontier roads 
they annexed Tibet. In the 



THE ARMY MAKS THE BORDER - 1959/60 65 

vicinity of the Tibetan frontier of NEFA there are 
passes up to 16,000 feet. On the Indian side the 
precipitation is great. The mountains are covered in 
dense forest and thick snow in winter. Land communi- 
cations with the area from India are exceptionally 
difficult. On the Tibetan side, the high plateau, over 
which the Chinese have built approach roads and 
airfields is extremely cold but snowfall is light. The 
military problem is not the relative size of the Indian 
or Chinese armies but how many troops each side can 
maintain in the frontier areas. India can only match 
China’s ability by means of air transport and the 
dropping of supplies by parachutes. Even so, in 
establishing a favourable air situation for the use of 
her air transport she may find herself at a disadvantage 
with regard to the accessibility of airfields”. Brigadier 
Thompson might well have added the difficulty of 
finding dropping zones for parachute drops, which 
were few and far between and very rarely within 
convenient distance of fonvard troops. Operations 
are often dictated by the availability of dropping 
zones. 

The moral of Brigadier Thompson’s comment is 
that it might have been militarily sounder to give the 
Chinese the problems of the southern slopes of the 
Himalayas, in 1962, as our own communications had 
not been developed and we had no forward adminis- 
trative bases and animal transport to support the 
troops. A delaying action through Towang and Sela 
Pass, instead of offering pitched battles on unequal 
terms, might have delayed the Chinese. Our own 
build-up. then would have more closely approximated 
the Chinese build-up, as they would have lost the 
advantage of their well-developed road communications 
up to the NEFA border and their established forward 
bases. It was suicidal to fight them at a place winch 
was three hours from a 7-ton roadhead, while our 
3-ton roadhead at Misamari was 21 days and the 1-ton 
roadhead at Towang 6 days away. Even these roads 



66 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


were useless for the carry forward of Towang due to 
lack of porters, pack transport, tracks and bridges. 
We relied on air transport, but the scattered drops 
were of no use to the forward garrisons, apart from the 
dropping zones being 1 to 3 days carry from the front- 
line troops. 

To complete this discourse on the strategic con- 
siderations applicable to NEFA, let us review the basic 
advantages enjoyed by the Chinese. Tibet was a 
sanctuary, as India could not attack Chinese bases 
there without going to war. Their bases at Le, 
Marmang and Tsona enjoyed immunity from both 
ground and air attack and did not need to be guarded, 
thus freeing combat troops for their offensive. They 
had the advantage both of ‘economy of force’ and 
‘concentration of effort* - two important principles of 
war. If they could have been forced to set up forward 
bases inside NEfA, these would have been vulnerable 
and would have diverted troops. Every additional 
mouth to feed becomes a liability in the mountains. 

Since we decided to sit on the border i.e. the 
McMahon Line we could only manoeuvre backward 
unless we were prepared to invade Tibet, assuming 
that we had the necessary military strength to do so. 
On the other hand, the Chinese claimed the whole < 
NEFA and could plan on operations in this dispute 
area without risking immediate, adverse world opinioi 
In fact, in November 1961 and again on 3rd Octobi 
1962 Mr. Chou-en Lai made it clear that he woui 
not respect the McMahon Line. 

The public and our higher planners must leai 
these military facts of life. They cannot be ignor< 
whatever the other imperatives. There is no point 
getting hysterical and demanding immediate reprisa' 
every time the Chinese intrude into our territory, 
takes time and military skill to create the necessa 
favourable conditions for mounting an offensive, 
evict intruders. 



THE ARMY MANS THE BORDER — 1959/60 


67 


It is to the credit of General Thimayya and General 
Thorat that we did not deploy in strength beyond 
Bomdilla, during their command. They were adamant. 
They advised against establishing any further forward 
posts without adequate military arrangements. It 
was only after they left that we adopted the ill-fated 
Forward Policy and gave the Chinese an excuse for 
the clash of 1962, and the subsequent lightning thrust 
to the plains. 

Having faced stiff opposition from the older and 
more sober generals, Government now looked for some 
other general who would collaborate with their forward 
policy. Here I would quote Mr. G. S. Bhargava from 
his excellently documented book, The Battle of NEFA. 
He says, “ . . .a new class of Army Officer who 
could collude with politicians to land the country in 
the straits in which it found itself in September-October 
1962. Since qualities of heart and head ceased to be a 
passport to promotion for military officers . . . war 
and fighting having been ruled out, the more ambitious 
among them started currying favour with the politicians. 
... In such circumstances a general with an eye on 
the future need only tell Ministers that a network of 
border posts, plus half-hearted preparations for 
‘positional warfare’ - General Kaul’s pet phrase in 
those days — would contain the Chinese. Harassed 
policymakers would have jumped at it. . . . They 
would have calculated . . . (that this) without pro- 
voking the enemy would silence the critics at home”. 

> The so-called ‘Forward Policy’ has been the 
subject of much controversy and debate. Even after 
six years it is not clear as to who was actually responsible 
for devising this policy and whether the policy itself 
was the sole reason for the military riposte from China. 
It therefore warrants a detailed study of the available 
information. 

General Kaul attributes the decision to Mr. Nehru. 
According to him, Mr. Nehru was being subjected to 



68 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


mounting criticism for allowing Chinese incursions and 
was anxious to devise some via media and take action, 
short of war, in order to appease the people. Mr. Nehru 
is reported to have held a meeting in the autumn of 
1961 in his room, at which Mr. Mcnon, General Thapar 
and General Kaul were present. Studying a map 
showing recent Cliinese incursions, Mr. Nehru is 
reported to have said that whoever succeeded in 
establishing a post would establish a claim to that 
territory, as possession was nine- tenths of the law. He 
then asked if the Chinese could set up posts why couldn’t 
we? 

Kaul claims that, “He (Nehru) was told that owing 
to numerical and logistical difficulties, we could not 
keep up in this race with the Chinese. If we inducted 
more posts in retaliation, we would not be able to 
maintain them logistically. Also, China with her 
superior military resources could operationally make 
the position of our small posts untenable”. Presumably 
this military advice was given by Thapar and Kaul. 

After some discussion Mr. Nehru is alleged to 
have evolved a new policy for our border areas. Briefly 
the new policy was that, as China was unlikely to wage 
war with India, there was no reason why we should not 
play a game of chess and a battle of wits with them 
and maintain a few of our posts in what we were convinced 
was our territory. If the Chinese advanced in one place, 
we should advance in another. Mr. Nehru is reported 
to have been of the view that this defensive step on 
our part might irritate the Chinese but no more. 

General Kaul’s summing up is, “I think Nehru 
framed this policy principally for the benefit of the 
Parliament and the public and also perhaps as a 

strategy of beating the Chinese at their own game 

He saw in it one reply to his critics”. 

It would be unfair to Mr. Nehru to suggest that, 
he embarked on such a course without tacit military 
approval from some general. It is inconceivable that 



THE ARMY MANS THE BORDER - 1959/60 


69 


such a major change could have been decreed in such 
a wholly impromptu manner, for such selfish reasons, 
and without consulting the Cabinet and the Defence 
Chiefs. The Defence Committee of the Cabinet does 
not appear to have had a hand in this decision. 

Mr. Welles Hangen, in his book After Nehru , Who? 
says: ‘‘One significant issue on which I know Kaul 
outmanoeuvred Menon is the ‘forward’ strategy adopted 
by the Indian Army in the summer of 1962 against the 
Chinese in Ladakh and on the North-East Frontier. 
Kaul went to Nehru and persuaded him to let the Army 
establish advance check posts to outflank Chinese posts 
set up on Indian territory 1 *. 

Most Army officers will agree with Messrs. Bhar- 
gava and Hangen. In 1962, it was generally believed 
that Kaul was the man largely responsible for getting 
the Army committed to the northern borders before the 
required means were made available. With due 
respect to General Thapar it must be admitted that 
his advice counted for little in 1961/62, in these policy 
matters. 

Kaul himself confesses the truth about his part 
in forcing the Forward Policy on a reluctant Army. 
I quote: “In connection with some difficulties which 
GOG XXXIII Corps had raised, I went to Gauhati in 
February 1962 and held a conference attended by 
senior civil and military officials who were dealing with 
this question in NEFA. I told them why it was 
important for us to establish posts all along our border 
and that failure on our part to do so would result in the 
Chinese establishing these posts instead. In view of 
the extreme shortage of man-power, labour, supply- 
dropping equipment and the inaccessibility of certain 
areas, many of which were not easy to identify, and 
unreliable maps, Lt.-General K. Umrao Singh, 
Commander, XXXIII Corps, apprehended it might 
be difficult to fully implement this policy. After some 
discussion, if teas agreed by all present that it was imperative 



70 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


in the national interests of defence to establish as many posts 
along our border in NEFA as possible, despite our difficulties.* 

. . . These Chinese must have resented being fore- 
stalled and in frustration and anger provoked a com- 
bustible situation in October 1962”. 

An analysis of General Kaul’s version of his visit 
to Gauhati raises many interesting and controversial 
issues. The first relevant point is the propriety of the 
Chief of the General Staff dealing directly, on a major 
policy matter, with a Corps HQ. and by-passing 
Command HQ. which was the correct channel of 
command. Unfortunately, this sort of impromptu 
order group, presided over by Kaul, had become the 
accepted procedure and was resorted to whenever he 
felt that the forward commanders were not acting 
with the speed and determination which he demanded. 

Having claimed that the Forward Policy was the 
brain-child of Mr. Nehru he states that the Gauhati 
meeting took a major decision. He says, “It was 
agreed by all present that it was imperative in the 
national interests of defence to establish as many posts 
along our borders in NEFA as possible, despite our 
difficulties”. The vital issue is whether a gathering 
of assorted officials is empowered to take decisions on 
matters concerning the national interests - a matter 
that is solely the duty and prerogative of the Defence 
Committee of the Cabinet. The unavoidable deduction 
is that Kaul has tried to build up a case to prove that 
this controversial decision was taken by Nehru and was 
later unanimously “determined” by many officials. In 
other words, he tries to absolve himself of the widely-held 
belief that it was Kaul himself who was the architect 
and prime mover of the Forward Policy. 

In the same passage he goes on to say, “It was in 
pursuance of this effort that the Commander of the 
4 Infantry Division sent out various Assam Rifles 
parties, each accompanied by a regular army officer, 
to ensure that these posts were correctly established. 

• Authors Italics. 



THE ARMY MANS THE BORDER - 1959/60 


71 


One such party went under the guidance of Captain 
Mahabir Prasad, MC, of 1 Sikh and established a post 
at Dhola in NEFA near die area of Tri-junction”. The 
word “effort” is misleading. This passage does not 
enlighten us as to who selected Dhola as one of the 
posts under the Forward Policy; a crucial matter that 
cannot be side-tracked by clever verbiage. Even if we 
accept that Mr. Nehru advised the Forward Policy, 
his alleged “instructions” were that we should establish 
these forward posts in what we were convinced was our 
territory. Now who disobeyed this order and set up 
a post in a sensitive, disputed remote area and one 
which the Chinese had more than once refused to 
concede as Indian territory? Kaul says that in setting 
up the posts he was given “invaluable data and 
assistance” by Mr. B. N. Mullick and Mr. Hooja of the 
Intelligence Bureau, thus dragging them into the 
dismal picture. Was Dhola set up on their advice? 
Was the Ministry of External Affairs consulted, or was 
it the decision of GOG 4 Division? Was it Kaul who 
gave the list of forward posts to Command HQ,’s or 
was it the unanimous decision of the February 1962 
conference of Gauhati ? Whoever is responsible was guilty 
of an error of judgement, an error that provided the 
Chinese with the detonator for which they were looking. 

There is one last comment that must be made. 
General Kaul was a senior Army General and it is 
strange, to say the least, that he should have ordered 
a . military’ venture with the vague administrative 
injunction of “despite our difficulties”. Such vagueness 
docs not represent the orthodox way of issuing military 
orders. 

There is something unconvincing about the alleged 
proceedings of the conference at Gauhati. To my 
knowledge, Kaul had gone there to brow-beat and 
bully the doubtful generals who had misgivings about 
the whole idea of setting up forward posts. I know 
that from the Corps Commander down to myself as 



72 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


the Brigade Commander we had grave reservations 
about the wisdom of this new policy. 

General Kaul visited HQ. 4 Division in July 1962 
to speed up the establishment of one of the posts that 
we were having difficulty in setting up due to admin- 
istrative problems. We see that he now came directly 
to the level of a division to do the “chasing”. At this 
meeting he made his famous speech about there being 
some officers “who can and some who can’t” after the 
Eno’s Fruit Salt advertisement. All those who did 
not get a move on with the establishment of forward 
posts were classified as “can’ts” and would be severely 
dealt with. I was on my way down from Towang to 
Tezpur to attend an operational conference that I shall 
be referring to later. I was stopped by the GSO I of 
the Division at Bomdilla on 3rd July 1962, and was 
told that I would be “personally” responsible for 
organising the move to a certain forward post. When 
X pointed out that these posts -were bring established 
under the administrative arrangements of the Assam 
Rifles and the NEFA Administration, I was told to liase 
with them and hurry the move as General Kaul was 
furious at the delay and would not accept any excuses. 
As Commander I was personally to blame. I was 
dumbfounded. 

General Kaul has tried to use two alibis : the first 
is blaming Mr. Nehru and the second the meeting at 
Gauhati. He has carefully avoided indicating his own 
views on the Forward Policy other than the adminis- 
trative problems that he claims were put up to 
Mr. Nehru. Was he loyally implementing the orders 
of his Prime Minister in February and again in July 
1962, or was he hounding the local commanders and 
by-passing the normal chain of command in the process, 
in pursuance of his own idea of combating the Chinese? 

. . T * ie . Miliary Correspondent of the Statesman , 
writing in a special supplement in November 1967, 
has summed up the contributory responsibility of 



THE ARMY MANS THE BORDER - 1939/60 


73 


Generals Thapar and Kaul neatly and comprehensively. 
He writes, “The two Generals did not say that they 
could not assume responsibility for the Forward Policy 
and its consequences with the means at their disposal. 
They thus made themselves party to a dangerous deci- 
sion. At various times they represented, implored and 
complained that they faced ‘logistical difficulties’. But 
they did not say at any time that because of these 
difficulties the execution of the Forward Policy, at that 
time, was impossible or dangerous. They only 
questioned the means to implement the policy and not 
the policy itself”. He aptly concluded, “To wake up 
civilians, generals must protest against a policy which 
they know to be beyond India’s military capacity, to 
the point of resignation. Instead Kaul and Thapar 
did not even make a written protest. It is the duty 
of soldiers to obey; it is equally the duty of senior 
soldiers on rare occasions, to say that certain orders 
cannot be obeyed. It is the duty of responsible military 
men not to take on an impossible assignment from 
their civilian masters without at least firm written 
protest and at best submitting their resignations”. Far 
from doing this, General Kaul took it upon himself to 
visit lower formation HQ,; brush aside difficulties and 
threaten disciplinary action against those officers who 
were stalling the establishment of posts. 

The advice of capable generals who counselled 
caution, restraint and adherence to the basic principles 
of war was ignored and the principles of war violated. 
Such generals were labelled pro-Wcst, alarmists or 
over-cautious. With the eclipse of General Tliimayya, 
General Thorat’s claims to be the Chief were waived 
aside and General Thapar’s seniority was invoked to 
promote him, in April 1961. General S. D. Verma, 
who was commanding Ladakh and who held similar 
views to General Thorat, ■was superseded, his seniority 
being ignored. The truth is that officers who opposed 
the indiscriminate opening of posts were ear-marked 
for elimination. There was no room for practical, 



74 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


professional views in Mr. Nehru’s quest for political 
survival in the face of a militant Opposition. 

In April 1961 General Thimayya was retired, 
Genera! Thorat was pensioned off and General Verma, 
a man of principle, resigned immediately lie was 
superseded. The stage was set for the Forward Policy. 

We established a number of additional forward 
posts. Mr. Nehru said, “It would be wrong to call 
them check-posts and that they jwerc in fact military 
outposts”. The Chinese were later to seize this in- 
accurate, off-the-cuff remark with glee. In 1962, after 
their military successes, they announced to the world 
that we had built 43 ‘strong points’ as evidence of our 
intention to launch an attack against China. They 
quoted Mr. Nehru’s own words. Actually these posts 
were militarily useless, and were brushed aside by the 
advancing Chinese. No sane military officer treated 
them as anything but flag-posts. 

The complacency and confused thinking in the 
Government unfortunately infected some senior officers 
and military planners. Mr. G. S. Bhargava writes in 
The Battle of NEFA : “The prevalent political views 
bred a new type of military strategist, typified by 
Lt.-General B. M. Kaul. He developed the theory of 
positional warfare”. 

Mr. A. M. Rosenthal of the New York Times quotes 
an Indian Army officer as saying: “We thought it would 
be a sort of game. They would stick up a post and we 
would set up a post. We did not think it would come 
to much more”. This disclosure of the “grand strategy” 
of the Sino-lndian border is quite fantastic, and could 
only be accepted by politically-tainted officers. We 
made brave statements of challenging China, and in 
occasional outbursts of enthusiasm, even spoke of 
“recovering our sacred soil”. We had neither the 
equipment nor the money to organise a proper theatre 
of war and a task force. We did not prepare for a big 
battle as we did not believe the battle was a reality 



THE ARMY MANS THE BORDER - 1959/60 75 

that we might have to face. We hoped for a non- 
violent bloodless war. 

We created a separate Border Roads Organisation 
in I960. Its policy was laid down by a separate Board 
and the Army was not the ultimate authority for 
deciding priorities. General Kaul was a permanent 
member of this Board, apparently in his personal 
capacity. When he moved to the Chief of the General 
Staff’s chair from the Quarter Master General’s chair, 
he remained a member of this Board. Road building 
was carried out in leisurely fashion and little progress 
was made as late as September 1962, despite some 
phoney stage-managed opening ceremonies. 

Mr. Menon and his aides continued to make 
big play of the expansion of our ordnance factories, 
assembly of aircraft and other impressive projects. We 
were still searching for aircraft and helicopters on 
rupee payments and Mr. Menon still deliberately kept 
the Private Sector out of defence production. We were 
critically short of most essential items of equipment. 

This sad bubble was pricked on 20th October 
1962 when all our so-called posts were overrun in a 
few hours and all we could do was to shout “FOUL!” 
“HELP!” 



Chapter VI 


Half-hearted Preparations 1960/61 

11 The situation has broadly changed in our favour” 

— -Nehru 1961. 

The years 1960/61 were the years of half-hearted 
preparations and continued hopes of containing China 
by cultivating her friendship, while pursuing talks to 
settle the border issue. In the words of Government, 
“Limited defence measures to contain the Chinese 
incursions into Indian territory” were ordained. The 
Chinese and Indian Premiers met; and this meeting 
was followed by a meeting of officials, raising hopes of 
some accord and delaying military measures for a 
possible war. 

Government orders were too vague for any real and 
effective war preparations. The word “limited” can 
mean many things to many people ; it is an ambiguous 
word that gave the parsimonious financial experts a 
chance to hinder, delay and block proposals for re- 
organising the Army. As far as tire Army was concerned 
the Government direction did not require any steps to 
counter an invasion, but merely to prevent further 
incursions. This also left room for dissent and argument 
among the Army planners. 

Although the Army had been ordered to Ladakh 
and NEFA in 1959, little was achieved in the following 
months to provide the means for the defence of this 
long border area, even against incursions. Piecemeal 
raisings and ad-hoc appointments were sought and 
sanctioned from time to time - sometimes after bitter 
wrangling, and haggling. Financial and man-power 
ceilings laid down by the Cabinet, and apparently not 
sufficiently modified after the handing over of the 



HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS - 1960/61 77 

northern borders to the Army, hampered the develop- 
ment of the necessary military power. Border forma- 
tions were compelled to rely on indigenous production 
of arms, equipment and clothing for operations in the 
mountains even where these were patently useless and 
obsolescent. The funds made available were residual 
amounts after allowing for our Third Five-Year Plan, 
which remained supreme. 

Tlie basis of operational planning was a series of 
leisurely “induction” plans based on the available air- 
lift, and on the untenable assumption that the Chinese 
would watch idly while we gradually built up our 
Himalayan defences. Numerous small posts were 
established even though their military effectiveness was 
poor due to indifferent arms, lack of administrative 
cover and wide dispersion. 

In April 1960 Mr. Chou-en Lai visited India for 
talks with Mr. Nehru. They agreed that the border 
problem should be re-examined by expert officials, who 
later met in Peking, Delhi and Rangoon between July 
and November 1960. At these meetings the Chinese 
raised many questions, and were particularly inquisitive 
about the alignment of the McMahon Line in the Thagla 
Ridge area. It is said that they were not convinced 
of the validity of our interpretation of the Line in this 
particular sector. As we shall see later, they reacted 
sharply to the establishment of a post within the 
disputed two-mile belt. 

In October 1960 I was promoted Brigadier and 
posted as Jlrigadier-ln-Charge Administration of XV 
Corps which was responsible for the Ladakh Sector. 
I seemed destined to continue my direct involvement 
with the Chinese problem. Now I would have the 
opportunity of assessing for myself the administrative 
arrangements for our border garrisons. Administration 
is at all times an important principle of war; in the 
mountains it is often the key one. 

The Tibct-Ladakh border had also been handed 
over to the Army in October 1959, and there had been 



78 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


the same scramble to move and locate troops, before 
the onset of winter, as in NEFA. I was at that time 
commanding an infantry battalion in Kashmir and had 
read about the Karam Singh episode in the papers. 

I soon felt the impact of this incident when I was 
ordered to surrender a “percentage” of my unit snow- 
clothing as this was required for the troops being rushed 
to Ladakh, although we were ourselves located in a 
bitterly cold place and had troops at over 9,500 feet. 
The Cabinet had decided to hand over the border to 
the Army in August 1959, and here we were in October 
without any snow-clothing, having to resort to begging, 
borrowing and reducing scales - the normal procedures 
for dealing with unforeseen developments. Actually 
there should have been a General Staff Reserve to meet 
just this sort of contingency but as we had no Operational 
Plans, there were no administrative or mobilisation 
arrangements. > 

When I took over as Brigadier-In-Gharge Admini- 
stration in October I960, we were at the fag-end of our 
so-called “stocking” programme. It was astonishing to 
find that even after one year we had practically no admi- 
nistrative backing and that we lived from air-drop to air- 
drop. The daily stock position of each post became the 
main preoccupation and was scrutinised even by the 
Army Commander. I once got an almighty rocket 
from Command HQ because one of my platoon posts 
had only four issues of matches, and was hard put to 
explain that this represented one month’s supply as 
matches were issued once a week; and in any case 
I did not control the Air Force or the weather. This 
was a very strange situation. We had deployed troops 
which \sc could barely maintain and then the top 
commanders wasted their time keeping track of the 
stock position instead of dealing with matters more 
appropriate to^ their high office. I have recounted this 
httlc story to illustrate my belief that the sending and 
maintenance of troops was the end of the exercise. I was 
never once questioned about why we had no guns or 



HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS — 1960/61 79 

machine-guns, or what were my administrative plans 
in the event of a war. 

There were hardly any roads, as the newly created 
Border Roads Organisation had not been able to get 
firmly established and were still awaiting vital road- 
building equipment from abroad. We relied entirely 
on air-lifts and air-drops. Airfields had to be improved 
and some new ones had to be built. The Air Force 
were short of aircraft and were living in fond hopes of 
getting more transport aircraft from somewhere. There 
was a critical shortage of supply dropping equipment 
and some confusion as to who was responsible for placing 
the necessary indents and ensuring adequate production. 
We were still wrangling about procedural matters, after 
one year of experience. At about this time Mr. Nehru 
said that “Necessary preparations have been made for 
the defence of Indian territory, and in about a year or 
two arrangements would be complete for developing 
communications to enable the Indian Defence Forces 
to move easily into difficult mountainous terrain of the 
northern border”. 

There was little accommodation in the barren 
Ladakh region and everything except mud bricks (or 
trees in NEFA) had to be air-lifted or air-dropped. 
Troops were mainly used to make bricks, fetch logs or 
collect air-drops. No one seemed to bother about their 
training. Progress in construction was a more important 
routine requirement than the training report. 

The intense cold required the supply of vast 
quantities of kerosene oil and oil-burning stoves. 
After allowing for the supply of rations there was little 
left for war-like stores. Survival was more important 
than readiness for war. 

The troops were still on the normal Army ration 
provided in the plains. The Indian soldier’s ration is 
the most awkward and complicated in the world, as 
numerous items are required for one meal and if any- 
thing is lost in air-drops the meal is either tasteless or 
lacking in essential food value. For years we had 



80 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


followed the British custom of not interfering with the 
eating habits of the jawan. This suited the Imperial 
Army but was useless in the mountains. India had 
begun to produce delicious tinned food, but of course 
these were too expensive for the simple, humble, volun- 
teer jawan. 

There was always a chronic deficiency of tinned 
milk, due to lack of foreign exchange. Dhal (lentils), 
the staple food of the jawan, could not be cooked at 
high altitudes, and as there was a shortage of pressure 
cookers the problem bedevilled the local commanders 
and the administrative staffs. There was also a major 
battle with Finance to “authorise" these new items. 
Finance were keen on ensuring that the special issues 
for the mountains would not be treated as a precedent. 
Finance lived in fear of precedents and the erring 
official who allowed a departure from past practice 
was likely to blot his copy-book. Oil-cookers too 
were in short supply. Since there are no trees in 
Ladakh all cooking was done on these antiquated, 
unreliable and frustrating contraptions. 

Medical facilities could not be provided as the 
troops were so widely dispersed and treatment was 
possible only if patients were evacuated by helicopters 
to base hospitals. There was a critical shortage of 
"choppers” and some deaths occurred because evacua- 
tion was not possible due to inclement weather. These 
deaths did not seem to bother anyone and were accepted 
as occupational hazards. The scale of doctors remained 
at one per battalion, although some battalions were 
dispersed over hundreds or miles and had as many as 
13 outposts each. 

There was a shortage of administrative and service 
units to despatch, hold and issue stores. Tliis respon- 
sibility devolved on the forward troops and was a clear 
breach of the principles of logistics. HQ, XV Corps 
was responsible for calculating the requirements of 
each forward post -an extraordinary arrangement. 



HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS - 1960/Gl 


81 


I had hardly settled down to my new job when we 
started planning the “induction” programme for 1961/ 
62. I was amused to find the Army and the Air Force 
playing the oldest game in the world, viz. the cluckcn 
and the egg. We asked the Air Force to give us the 
maximum tonnage that they could lift and drop during 
1961. They immediately countered by asking us to 
indicate the maximum tonnages we required so that 
they could project the Army’s requirements to Govern- 
ment and get Government sanction for the additional 
aircraft and crews required. To confound the issue 
there were major imponderable factors on both sides. 
The Air Force could not predict the number of Hying 
days as we had had no experience of the weather 
conditions in Ladakh. Our Engineers could not predict 
the number of days required for routine maintenance 
and the days the airfields would be closed for improve- 
ments as they wanted to know the programme of air 
sorties to calculate their dumping programme. 

I make no apology' for raising tins question as I 
consider it is a vital one for the future. These paper 
games could not have been played if there was any 
attempt at co-ordinating the efforts of the Army and 
Air Force. In the absence of a permanent Cliicf of 
Defence Staff the responsibility devolved on the Defence 
Minister. It is an open secret that Mr. Mcnon forced 
the Air Force to exaggerate their capacity to give the 
impression that our build-up was proceeding apace. It 
is also well known that lie was the final authority for 
deciding on what aircraft would be purchased and 
from where. The delivery dates were known only to 
him, whereas the Air Force was forced to commit 
themselves to a target without the assurance that they 
would have the required time and capacity to absorb 
the new planes. 

The General Staff was not concerned with the 
mundane question of air-lift capacity' and blithely 
insisted that they had been ordered to open so many 



82 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


posts, induct so many troops and send so many guns 
and weapons, and the Administrative Staff and the Air 
Force could sort out the petty matter of air-lifts with 
the help of hopes and guesswork. 

In the end, three or four alternative induction 
plans would be drawn up, the plan nearest to the 
available air-lift being adopted. Officers and clerks 
worked for many days and nights calculating tonnages 
itemwise, for each post. Armed with these figures, 
General Staff and Administrative Branch Officers of 
Command HQ,, Corps HQ and Army HQ met at 
Army HQ in Delhi on 5th February 1961, in the office 
of the Chief of the General Staff, Lt.-General L. P. Sen. 
General Sen was later to command Eastern Command 
during the fateful days of September-November 1962. 
The aim of the conference was to “co-ordinate” the 
induction plans and the maintenance plans for 1961/62. 

General Kaul was the Quarter - Master General 
(QMG) of the Army and the one most * intimately 
connected with the maintenance of troops. He arrived 
a few minutes late and did not even bother to apologise 
to the chair, merely announcing that he had been held 
up. We were all duly impressed with this important 
and busy man, and his immense stature. 

Without further ado, he announced that whatever 
our bids for tonnages he could only make available “X” 
tons, and we would have to “make do” with this. He 
added with supreme confidence that he did not want 
to hear any “belly-aches” from anyone. He then left 
the meeting pleading another engagement. I had 
heard a lot about General Kaul but this was the first 
time I had seen him officially. He had not bothered 
to greet the senior officers who had come many miles 
to attend this conference, which was the normal Army 
custom. He did not bother to discuss the operational 
situation. 

The Chief of the General Staff was really respon- 
sible for co-ordinating the induction plans. We waited 



HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS - 19G0/GI 83 

for his reaction, as it was his branch that had ordered 
the induction of additional troops and fire-power 
during 1961/62. Fantastically, General Sen smiled, 
shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well gentlemen, 
you have heard the QMG; you can all go back and 
recast your plans accordingly. There is little more 
that I can do”. 

General Vcrma, my Corps Commander, looked at 
me aghast at the casual approach of Army HQ to the 
vital issue of what we could induct and maintain in 
Ladakh; and what was required to fulfil the operational 
tasks allotted to us. He had been Chief of the General 
Staff and Master General of Ordnance and knew the 
workings of Army HQ, as well as any officer in the 
Army. There appeared to be something sinister and 
radically wrong in the way the QMG dominated such 
a vital meeting, and ignored the administrative impli- 
cations of operational requirements. 

General Verma demanded clear orders on what wc 
were expected to achieve in the way of operational 
readiness. Operational plans cannot be based solely 
on the availability of air-lifts. This was not a case of 
fitting in the maximum number of children in the 
available buses for the annual school picnic. 

General Verma protested to the GGS and tried to 
highlight the need for co-ordination between the General 
Staff and the QMG’s Branch. With the tonnages 
allotted by the QMG it would barely be possible to 
maintain existing garrisons, improve airfields and send 
essential construction stores and therefore no war-like 
stores could be sent. He asked if this was acceptable 
to the General Staff, and if so a revised operation order 
should be issued. 

I have recounted the conduct of this conference in 
some detail to illustrate the type of glib talk that passed 
for operational planning and the increasing dominance 
of General Kaul. As already mentioned, with the 
vague Government order, it was easy to sow the seeds 



84 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


of discord among key officers of the Army. Looking 
back on events, it is clear that there was no overall 
Operational Plan, no urgency and no anticipation of 
war in 1961 or 1962. 

I attended a similar meeting in January 1962, my 
last act as Brigadier-In-Charge Administration XV 
Corps, before I left to command a brigade in NEFA. 
Now, it was General Kaul who was the CGS presiding 
over the co-ordination conference. The meeting was 
held in the main conference room of Army H.Q. and 
the setting was beautifully stage-managed. 

There were many unusual characters and I won- 
dered how they had come to be invited to a Top-Secret 
meeting. Before long I did not know whether to laugh 
or cry. I could hardly believe my cars when one 
person got up and bid for some air-drops. He was from 
the Ministry of Food and his Ministry had been 
instructed to try and grow vegetables in hot-houses 
in Ladakh. This gentleman constantly reiterated the 
need for very careful drops as he had some precious 
equipment which could not be replaced, and had been 
bought with even more precious foreign exchange. 

The next gentleman came up with a scheme for 
breeding ponies, using wild pony stallions and local 
mares. For some months HQ, XV Corps had been 
pestered with injunctions to catch a wild stallion but 
with no luck. We had tried everything from deep 
pits to mares on heat. The sturdy, independent stallions 
just would not co-operate and withstood all our snares 
and blandishments. I was astounded to hear of the 
famous breeding scheme at this august meeting. 

The Survey of India put in a bid for large tonnages 
for their survey operations. The last bids were from 
the Kashmir Government, who wanted to know if we 
could help them by lifting “pilgrims” to Leh, and if so, 
what quota could they expect. 

Let us revert to first conference of February 1961. 
We returned to HQ XV Corps and began the tedious 



HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS ~ 1960/61 


85 


task of paring down our bids. After allowing for 
survival loads there was almost nothing left for weapons 
and additional troops. Airfield and construction stores 
absorbed a major portion of the lift promised. When 
the General Staff were confronted with this unpleasant 
arithmetical fact their reaction was why worry, the 
Chinese were not likely to start a war. Wc kept our 
fingers crossed and hoped that the Chinese would give 
us more time to find and buy aircraft; build airfields; 
complete our roads and organise our Lines of Communi- 
cation. 

In the circumstances there could be no overall 
strategic or tactical operational plans. We were really 
playing a game of opening as many lightly armed 
posts as we could maintain. As the senior adminis- 
trative head of Ladakh my sole preoccupation was to 
ensure that no one starved or died of exposure. 

Our main airfield at Chusui was strategically 
useless as the Chinese overlooked it and it could be 
neutralised in a matter of hours in the event of war, as in 
fact it was in 1962. Yet we continued to develop it 
to carry survival loads during the cold war phase. 

The land route to Leh, the capital of Ladakh, was 
almost ready but no plans for organising a proper Line 
of Communication had been drawn up. A mountain 
Line of Communication cannot be used without transit 
camps, provost arrangements, staging posts, recovery 
detachments, medical facilities, supply and petrol dumps 
and a network of wireless communications to control 
one-way traffic. Reconnaissances to assess these re- 
quirements were carried out only in June 1961. Our 
bids would now have to face the gauntlet of man-power 
shortages, and financial stringency. This is what did 
happen, in September 1961. At a meeting at Staff 
Duties Directorate in Army HQ, we were told that 
our demands were extravagant and that “Finance 
would never look at it”. The operational aspect was 
not the determining factor. This was the verdict of 



86 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


the General Staff. We were ordained “limited defence 
measures and here was the final proof of how officials, 
defence and civil, can confuse and confound the 
main aim. 

f In February 1961, soon after the co-ordinating 
conference m Delhi the Prime Minister made a state* 
P the I l ot Sa ^ h r a implying that our defences in 
Ladakh were in good fettle and that we were ready to 

C n nese j - Mr - Nehru said > “The situation 
"" 'l changed m our favour, not as much as 

ommied ’ tU •“ ? fac e that in areas which ‘hey have 
S the situation has been changing 

vTew n n “T" 7 ?,° lnt ° f ' dew and other point! of 
astounding 1 " V ? ’• General Verma > who read this 
a strong “JT,” ‘he Papers, immediately wrote 
Cenernr/h W ° rt /i»r etter to l 1 ' 8 immediate superior, 
des"rna J ha Brie ( fi VeS r m ^ m ?; Comm andcr and Chief- 
- Sb L to 5’ H sajd f} a ‘ ‘he Prime Minister’s 
delation to tbe ° f P t ‘ nust,c v misleading and bore little 

the QMG for the 'igSPsiT 1 b “ ng mad ij avaiIabIe by 

Sr t & a ^ 0 to OUr thrS d 7— 

Prime Minister General 1 W ,'" 5 ., r , en I arks of the 
to persuade Verma to whhdra^thkf ( tdep h?mcally) 
the true position in I ad»uT W ,, l ctter sa ymg that 
the Prime k T"* that 

consumption. Verma was e only for public 

comply with this unreasonableTeCesf^Th*' 15 '^ t0 

then an aspirant for the post of Jhapar was 

did not want to antagonise the PrimT SSet^ 



HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS - 1960/61 


87 


Defence Minister. Although General Thimayya, the 
outgoing Chief, was due to retire in early April 1961, 
for some time General Thapar had been based in Delhi 
understudying him. In the past, the outgoing and 
incoming Chiefs never met in Delhi and there was 
never any personal “handing and taking over”. The 
new Cliief was supposed to be briefed by his Principal 
Staff Officers, as the Chief of the Army Staff was 
expected to deal with very high policy matters. 

A few days later. General Verma was superseded 
for promotion by Lt.-General L. P. Sen and Lt.-General 
Daulet Singh. He resigned within 24 hours of the 
confirmation of the news. He was harassed and 
hounded even after his retirement, and his pension 
was withheld for some time. There was open talk 
that some flimsy charges were being framed against 
him. Finally, in sheer desperation, he exiled himself 
to the United Kingdom leaving behind his home, aged 
parents and his beloved India, as he could no longer 
bear these humiliations. He was an extremely kind 
and sensitive man reputed for his integrity and had 
never harmed anyone in his life. He had had a brilliant 
military record and in simple honesty could not cope 
With the sort of situation that prevailed in early 1961. 
He had always felt that the proper course for a gentle- 
man was to resign as soon as he was superseded. It had 
been customary for superseded officers to hang on in 
the Army, for as long as possible, meandering from one 
mediocre appointment to another. Many became 
disgipntled and made indiscreet remarks and irres- 
ponsible accusations against the Army and its promotion 
policies. Some hung on in the hope that their fortunes 
would improve with the next change in the Army 
hierarchy. There are many generals in the Army, 
even today, who had been superseded for years and 
vvho were promoted as soon as a new Chief or Army 
Commander took over. This was an unhealthy state 
of affairs and gave rise to favouritism and nepotism. 
Such officers could not command the loyalty and 



88 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


honesty he felt that hr ij ^ IS consciencc - In all 

junior to him and less qualified and ° ffic 5 s 

course open to him . 7 and ^ onI y honourable 
tunately P his supenestion ° if™ Unfor- 

members of the P Lok Sahh«T seiz . ed , u P on b y some 
with Mr. Menon MVnnn t0 ScttIe their own scores 
«» Protest XegarC (hT r aCCUSed ^“ng 
promotion boards and iennJrrf' . recmm °endations of 
parations of the P T* 

became a national issue Thrrr P ,4 rm y injustice 
between Mr. Krinahni were ^ ltter exchanges 

Some newspapers soon ioin /t Gov e r nment spokesmen. 
impeUed to P K*S* C l Mr ' Nehru fdt 
supersessions in the Armv J us *j|j r Menon b policy of 
personal responsibility foreachcas(- h f regaII> : ^sumed 
sesston or appoi ntm J nt T acb f e of Promotion, super- 

General KaffaS hkScrf™^ he eulo ^ rf 
vagant terms. He onenW Se T c , e record in extra- 
was one of the best In&m™ that . Gcneral Kaul 
Refuting charges that Kn„i ^ officers in the Army. 
Corps officer who \ad n? 3n A ™y Service 
whose sole achievement w« ri° C ? mbat experience and 
taking in Ambala (Punjab^' N°if e ' bmlding under- 
sea that “K V aul was an ifR^ ^',' ,old the Lok 
Infantry f or 25 yeats ^or^oo'* 0 had be ™ “ 
tu ??. s ? y with complete cnnfirf ^ years of service. 
Jat he is one of our brightest a ffff anc * knowledge 
^?y”. . Menon later added fn “f ° fficere in the 
„■?“ P enod m the Army Sendee r good “'““re, that 
tunes amounted to somewW f, ° dun ng British 
out of 28 years of service" nd 8 to 10 years 

comtetToldie^ffi ° r » d “ d a 

commanded an infantry comnan v V S he had "ever 
or peace. Temporary C oS"J I battabon > in war 
of the permanent Wambm , In”"^ ^ absence 
subaltern, does not conn, ’ ^1°"^ " junior 

caI Thimayya is 



HALF-HEARTED ' PREPARATIONS - 1960/61 


89 


reported to have remarked, “Every sepoy in the Army 
knows that Kaul has never been a combat soldier. You 
can’t hide that sort of thing in the Army. The officers 
do not respect Kaul”. Timmy certainly had free access 
to Kaul’s Service dossier, and should know. He was 
not given to catty remarks and full consideration must 
be accorded to his forthright judgement. In his 
memoirs, General Kaul has explained the circumstances 
which prevented him from commanding - the ultimate 
goal of all infantrymen. He makes the astonishing 
claim that “national priority” was the reason’. It is 
barely credible that any junior officer should merit 
any national importance. 

General Kaul had voluntarily left the Infantry for 
personal, domestic reasons, which must be respected. 
It is a tragedy that he did not (or was not allowed to) 
return to the Infantry to which he had been commis- 
sioned, when circumstances permitted. 

During the immediate post-war years, when, he 
should have been learning his profession in the obscurity 
of an infantry battalion, he apparently moved in prime- 
ministerial circles and gained tremendous political pull. 
It was widely known that he had political contacts; but 
I must confess that I did not realise how close these 
were till I read his autobiography. , 

It is said that *“he was picked by his powerful 
relative, Mr. Nehru, in 1947 to serve as the Military 
Attache in Washington, as India’s first free military 
representative”. He was then already serving on the 
quasi-political Nationalisation of the Armed Forces 
Committee. In 1948, Mr. Nehru is said to have 
selected him to be the Military Adviser to the Indian 
Delegation to the Security Council on the Kashmir 
case. After this he was appointed to command the 
para-military Jammu and Kashmir Militia in 1948. 
He served in this post till he had to quit “due to some 
differences with Sheikh Abdullah, the Kashmir Premier”. 
Kaul had therefore become a “political general and a 

•Welles Haugen’s After JVeftrv, I Yha ? 



88 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


confidence of their subordinates. General Verma nre 

honesty °he°feIt V tW f ctates ° r his “"science. In all 
iuSo hL nn^ h | he ^ not scn ' c ""dec officers 
course on™ m v™ quabfied ,’ and the only honourable 
°P™ t0 btm was to leave gracefully Unfor 

membe^ ofthe P Iortnn' VaS Seizad U P°" b y some 
with Mr Mennn Ayf*^ 8, l ° Setde tb eir own scores 
his brote'eh d?,*! ^ non \ vas accused of favouring 
promotion boards Sai ?” g the recmm °cndations of 

pa?“of°ffie ! na n dor i T di?ing , *5 military P re ’ 

became a national Lue tL P C ^ my m J ustice 
between Mr ky;« i Ue -‘ j ere were bitter exchanges 
slme ne,™an^ P am - and Government spokesmen. 
impeUedTnSv “ nj °!f^ battle - Mr ' Nehru felt 
supersessions in the Army J and fy h MCnDn n p0licy °J 
personal responsibihty for each cL^fn"^ aSSUmed 
session or appointment T^wL fp omotlon » su P er ' 
General Kauland praised^* Serld™' ™ 1 ? uIogised 
vagant terms He tL-mi ms 5er y ac . e record in extra- 

was one of the bes? Infanf^m that . General Kaul 
Refuting charges that Rn,? 17 °® cers ln the Army. 
Corps officer who had h U ,i Was on ^ y an Service 

whose sole achievement was d? c ° mbat e xperience and 
taking i n Ambala /P h° us c-building under- 

Sabhl that ‘Sl £ U " Ja \ Nehru told ^ Lok 
Infantry for 25 years out* 1 f?- Cei no Vl10 bad been m 
I can say with comnlet#* years of service, 

that he is one of our , confidence and knowledge 

Agny”. Moon C “ fo nd be !} offic - in *<= 

.His period in the Armv c • for J? ood measure, that 
times amounted to snnli u race Gor P s > during British 

of 28 years rf S e™"” re ar0 “ d 8 to 10 years 
combatToldie^ffi th a e S rc°cemed nfantI7ma i! ° r indccd a 

commanded an infantrv rnm d scnsc » 23 he had never 
°r peace. Temporai^t-nl^ 3 "! °J battall 'on, in war 
of the permanent inTumbTm 31 ^!.-? ^ abs ™“ 
a “ - 


HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS - 1960/61 


89 


reported to have remarked, “Every sepoy in the Army 
knows that Kaul has never been a combat soldier. You 
can’t hide that sort of thing in the Army. The officers 
do not respect Kaul”. Timmy certainly had free access 
to Kaul’s Service dossier, and should know. He was 
not given to catty remarks and full consideration must 
be accorded to his forthright judgement. In his 
memoirs, General Kaul has explained the circumstances 
which prevented him from commanding - the ultimate 
goal of all infantrymen. He makes the astonishing 
claim that “national priority” was the reason! It is 
barely credible that any junior officer should merit 
any national importance. 

General Kaul had voluntarily left the Infantry for 
personal, domestic reasons, which must be respected. 
It is a tragedy that he did not (or was not allowed to) 
return to the Infantry to which he had been commis- 
sioned, when circumstances permitted. 

During the immediate post-war years, when he 
should have been learning his profession in the obscurity 
of an infantry battalion, he apparently moved in prime- 
ministerial circles and gained tremendous political pull. 
It was widely known that he had political contacts; but 
I must confess that I did not realise how close these 
were till I read his autobiography. , 

It is said that *“he was picked by his powerful 
relative, Mr. Nehru, in 1947 to serve as the Military 
Attache in Washington, as India’s first free military 
representative”. He was then already serving on the 
quasi-political Nationalisation of the Armed Forces 
Committee. In 1948,’ Mr. Nehru is said to have 
selected, him to be the Military Adviser to the Indian 
Delegation to the Security Council on the Kashmir 
case. After this he was appointed to command the 
para-military Jammu and Kashmir Militia in 1948. 
He served in this post till he had to quit “due to some 
differences with Sheikh Abdullah, the Kashmir Premier”. 
Kaul had therefore become a “political general and a 
‘Welles Hangen’s After Kthnt, Who? 



90 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


quasi-military figure in the Army from the earliest 
post-war days”. In 1953 Nehru is credited with the 
decision to send Kaul to Srinagar to oversee the arrest 
of Sheikh Abdullah, when the latter was playing a 
dangerous political game. It is fantastic that at every 
turn Mr. Nehru should have found it necessary to 
consult or use Kaul, or send him on delicate national 
assignments. Little wonder, then, that Kaul in later 
years became the all-powerful figure who played the 
vital role in India’s China Policy. It is easy to find 
excuses for Mr. Nehru, as he was new to the duties of 
Prime Minister of a democratic country, and probably 
did not realise the serious erosion to the authority of 
the Army Command set-up by his direct dealings with 
a junior officer. Living himself on a high moral 
plane, he did not appreciate that such unconstitutional 
methods could be misused. 

This early taste of politics gave Kaul illusions of a 
greater role in India’s future. Mr. Welles Hangen 
quotes an old schoolmate of Kaul’s as saying, “Kaul 
probably thinks that he could be Prime Minister of 
India”. He also quotes a Western military officer as 
saying, “Kaul’s ambitions certainly do not stop short 
of being Defence Minister, probably Prime Minister”. 
Hangen adds that, “Kaul’s family tics with Nehru 
gave him an early taste of politics on a high level. He 
met most of the important politicians and Government 
officials long before he would have done in the line 
of duty”. 

Before the Nehru era, Kaul seems to have been 
singularly unfortunate in the variety of military assign- 
ments which came his way during a major World War. 
The clever but devious defence of Kaul’s career by the 
Prime Minister and the Defence Minister would have 
appeared plausible to a House and public that had 



HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS - 19G0/61 


91 


highest military commands. Service in the Army is 
divided into three categories, viz. regimental, staff and 
extra- regimental employment. For purposes of selection 
or promotion regimental service in an officer’s 
parent arm or service is the vital criterion. General 
Kaul’s many assorted staff and other appointments 
cannot be counted as service in his parent corps, be it 
Infantry or the Army Service Corps. To suggest that 
such service should be added to his allegedly Infantry 
parent arm, on the grounds that he had been com- 
missioned into this arm, is a distortion of facts that 
borders on the immoral. 

Kaul was a pre-war regular officer and World 
War II had lasted for six years giving every professional 
an opportunity to practise his profession. Had he 
wanted to serve again in the Infantry, he could surely 
have anranged to do so. I must emphasise that it is 
not a liability or disgrace to belong to other arms or 
services. All branches of the Army have important 
and complementary roles to play in battle. 

It is however wrong to claim to be something that 
one is not, particularly that one is an Infantryman when 
one has not served in the usual appointments in an 
infantry battalion. Command of infantry brigades and 
divisions is open to officers of all arms. By the time 
officers reach these senior positions, they are known as 
General Officers” and do not “belong” to any arm. 

It would be pertinent to tell the story of a fipe 
Indian General, who is still serving, and "who faced 
mudi the same problem as General Kaul. Lt.-Gen. G. 
G. Bewoor and I served in the same battalion during 
me war. His brother was killed in the Arakan 
Campaign -in 1943. They were sons of a very distin- 
guished and highly placed member of the war-time 
Viceroy’s Council - Sir Gurunath Bewoor. To obviate 
the possibility of General Bewoor’s death, orders were 
issued that he was not to be sent to the front and that 
ne was to be employed in a rear area “safe job”. He 



92 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


was duly posted to a newly raised propaganda cell 

Mr at< S, hi, md ° c , tnnate * c Indian National Army of 
Mr. Subhas Chandra Bose. General Bewoor had 

B°aTur1,;, he ‘° ? ght 3nd that t0 ° ™ th Ws °'™ 
Baluchis. He moved everybody and pulled every 

h^ m fon S h 4 0 j t ° f **!“ portion. To our delighb 
he soon showed up m the battalion again and 

S m the C W a r d ° f u‘ D ’ com P an V- He campaigned 
with the battalion throughout, commandintr manv 

*e nS l"awadv° C fou S ht T in famous battle of 
where^h. Cr ° ssm S ■" January, -February 1945, 

ag^st Ms ho- JaP ^ nCSe H««d to be pitted 
against ms boys. This story illustrates that ,t is 

2S ^ - officer Us righffo figU t'A u" 
ad vie e ^ U ^preference ™P^“&ith in uSta^ 

SS^SSi “ ~ - srf 

formative E years when t° y ?'“ :nt d “ ; rmg the crucial and 

professional knowledge and^Unl ^ b ? en bonin S ^ 

of all the ramifications of l?^tr S P ractl cal experience 
in battle. amincatIons of ^ndfing troops of all arms 

important ^taf^appdntmrab^Hf aU ’ fai n d *° h °’ r 
Organisation and Director tff .h* t • J 7 u ', ector of 
The latter appointment is not on !- be ^' e f ntona l Army. 
CUef. If fie was beino- ~ C f ° r a bnght prospective 
would surely have had his 8 ^?"" 1 !° r big tbin S s > he 
Officers destined for hich r-fnf planned differently. 
Grade I Staff Officers S in Scnerally serve as 

command. Later tliev .7 a PP°mtments, after 
Brigade command’ tenure as a Brin"? follow thcir 
m a fighting Command or Corn® HO Gen i ;ral S , taff 
Directorate in the Army H^such S Mffi^O^tioS 



HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS - 1960/61 


93 


or Staff Duties. Kaul had apparently been selected 
as Brigadier General Staff Southern Command in 1954-. 
Southern Command was a non-operational command. 
Even so, Kaul did not take up this appointment to 
help General Mori Sagar (whom he was to replace) 
who wished “to continue serving in Poona to enable his 
son to receive proper medical attention”. 

A proper system of selection for high Command 
must be based on certain inalterable criteria. It is 
bad luck if an officer has not been given the chance to 
serve in the many key appointments which are con- 
sidered essential for exercising high Command. Per- 
formance is the only yard-stick to measure an officer’s 
potential. Whatever the reasons for Kaul’s inability 
to command and hold high-grade Staff jobs, the fact 
remains that by 1959, he did not have the qualifications 
that would be required to be adjudged “outstanding”. 
I say this with no malice or animus. Kaul was an 
average officer, having regard to the standards of his 
contemporaries, but he was not the outstanding officer 
that he was made out to be. In fairness, I must record 
that Kaul had many admirable qualities. He was 
dynamic and a go-getter. He had a clear brain and 
was dedicated to his work. His personal conduct was 
above criticism. He had a warm heart and was generous. 
Had he not been infected by the virus of politics, he 
would have made an outstanding QMG. He was not 
trained to be CGS or to command a Corps. 

, His meteoric advancement was clearly not based 
fmtirely on merit or on the basis of his Service dossier. 
Kaul superseded at least six officers to be the Chief of 
the General Staff. Competent observers were of the 
opinion that Menon’s aim was to clear the way for 
him to succeed Thapar as the Army Chief. No one 
doubted that it was Kaul who would run the Army, 
^th Thapar as the amiable, nominal Chief. General 
Kaul’s career would not ordinarily merit a detailed 
analysis. However, his rise in the Army and the open 



94 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


championship of his cause by the Prime Minister of 
the nation had a vital bearing on the events of 1961/62 
The Prime Minister selected General Kaul in preference 
to more competent military generals for reasons best 
known to himself. He allowed (unwillingly perhaps) his 
name to be used by General Kaul in the latter’s attempt 
to enhance hrs stature and consolidate his position. 
Everyone in the Army was petrified of him as he was 
supposed to have the backing of the Prime Minister. 

of TnrTP WaS n ° ™ 7 e Pnme Ministl:r ; to the peasantry 
ro„H O h ^.' vas ,. a de ™-god and infallible. No one 
been 3 tlon Bls a , ct '° n ' Few men in history had 
Anvonf'Th SU p\ V ?. untar >'> Plenipotentiary powers. 

fep^r Mr and “ nfid “- ™ dd = d 

half-hearted WaS s V m I?t°matic of India’s 

China * Had T ,r mited preparations for war with 
^conceivable *itr en ° USly antid P ated war then it 
the best . C ’ ovcmment would have eliminated 

demoertv h!;!^ ta 1 ' en , t ' Th< ; Prime Minister in a 
senior generals H f . bso,uten ght to select and appoint 
the best available 11 . ? e( l“ a]1 y responsible for harnessing 
It is Ids dun. V , a nt '"J 1 " interests of the nation 
and nuamications y - an . d ™ ders,and the qualities 

posts/* Mr. Nehru made^ ^ the r hl & hest military 
and took many questionable"^ . unfbr ‘ unate choices 

appointment 1 ^ It 

to evict the Chinese r m NEF^iro C Serl 96 f r e 

about Mr^Ncbrjf^ t0 ,- write * n this vein 

has been both hero and id ° f ? y Station, he 
Independence strmnde h ' Smcc cluldh ood. In the 
Indian who could e P i,omi ° f ‘ hc 
terms. He wtw ,h, " “ Wlth the British °n equal 

given up wealth anrl ^?v Crat w ^o had voluntarily 

troddcnfarul spent" over Tn' 10 " '°- fi S, ht for ,hc d °'™- 

s P«it o\cr 10 years in British jails to give 



HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS - 1060/G1 95 

us self-respect and freedom. It was said that lie refused 
British honours and privileges. Mr. Nehru was a man 
whom no Indian would criticise lightly. I have often 
regretted the fact that I became involved in a situation 
that revealed his shortcomings. 

Nehru had become indispensable to the Indian 
people. His personal and emotional appeal held the 
people together. He had often proclaimed that he 
drew immense strength from the Indian people’s love 
and affection, but it is true that, given his aristocratic 
background, wealth, Harrow and Cambridge educa- 
tional and cultural background, he had nothing in 
common with the Indian peasant or his Congress 
colleagues. He found it impossible to communicate 
with most of his Cabinet, State Party bosses and the 
average Indian. He gradually withdrew into a shell 
and reserved all major policy decisions for himself. 
This trend became more noticeable after the death of 
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (in 1950) who was of equal 
stature and wielded the same power and influence in 
the country and Party. Gradually Nehru dwarfed or 
subdued everyone. He had been described by a colleague 
as “the banyan tree under whose shade not a blade of 
grass grows”. He became and was meekly accepted as 
the “benevolent moghul” who took the final decision 
on all major and even trivial matters, till he became 
convinced of his own omniscience and infallibility. 
Nehru was a mortal and he could not but succumb to 
the adulation of the people and the sycophancy of the 
Congress and Government officials. The people are 
equally to blame for placing him on an unnatural 
pedestal. To oppose him was political suicide; to 
express contrary views was the termination of even the 
Tnost brilliant official career. In the circumstances the 
Indian China Policy was his and his alone. 

Mr. Nehru’s China and Defence policies were 
found wanting in 1962. His declared China Policy 
was to confront China and not to surrender to force, and 



96 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


vet inwardly he hoped for a peaceful settlement. How- 
ever his subsequent political actions were not designed 
to implement this policy. He did not prepare for a 
military decision. He ordered only limited prepara- 
tions, misled the nation in various statements which he 
made from time to time and contributed more than his 
fair share to the euphoria and equivocation, prior to 
the Chinese invasion. The following statement made 
after the major clash in Ladakh, in October 1959 is 
just one example. He said, “I can tell the House that 
at no time since our Independence have our defences 
been in better condition and finer fettle and backed by 
greater industrial production. . . . Our defence forces 
are well capable of looking after our security”. 
Mr. Nehru was either wrongly advised or he deliberately 
chose to make an optimistic statement to mollify an 
irate House. He did not give the right leadership to the 
Defence Committee of the Cabinet, and allowed the 
Finance and Defence Ministries to work at cross-purposes. 

He did not seek allies to maintain the military 
balance of power in the event of a military clash. He 
was party to the neglect of the Armed Forces and starved 
them of essential weapons and equipment in the name 
of “development needs”. Had he feared or anticipated 
war, he would not have allowed Generals of the calibre 
of Chaudhuri and Manekshaw to remain in the wilder- 
ness from 1959 onwards. He would not have per- 
mitted Generals Thorat and Verma to be pensioned off. 
It is fantastic that India, which did not have surplus 
military talent^ should have dispensed with the services 



HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS - 1960/61 


97 


Tiie stage was set for our Forward Policy. We embarked 
on a policy of bluff, until it was called in 1962. The 
induction of troops into the Indo-Tibetan border areas 
was openly publicised and Parliament was repeatedly 
assured that military arrangements were adequate. 
This was not so. There was much that had to be done 
before we could make such a claim. Perhaps because 
we had given ourselves a limited National Aim, very 
little was actually done to reorganise and re-equip 
the Army. 

Our standard divisions had to be converted to 
mountain divisions before they were fit to operate in 
the Himalayas. Our divisions were organised for the 
Burma Campaign in World War II. Piece-meal changes 
had been made from time to time, but there had been 
no attempt at making the radical changes that were 
dictated by the terrain and operational requirements of 
the Himalayas and the Chinese Army. 

Most of our weapons and equipment were of 
World War II vintage and had long since been dis- 
carded by most respectable armies. In most cases 
they were of unsuitable design and pattern. Closely 
linked with this was the chronic shortages that be- 
devilled the Army in those days. Even obsolescent 
arms and ammunition were in short supply. Basic 
items were never available to full scales. 

We should have developed, produced and issued 
suitable and adequate quantities of snow-clothing, 
regimental necessaries, specialist equipment, packed 
rations, wireless sets and charging engines. There was 
sometimes not enough equipment to issue to newly 
raised units. Sometimes recruits could not even be 
i provided with boots. 

There was a crying need for improving the mobility 
of forward formations. We had no proper means of 
carrying loads in the mountains, as motor transport 
was utterly useless and was left in rear areas. There 
were no porter companies and insufficient pack animals. 



98 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The old Army mule was of limited value in. the moun- 
tains, as the tracks and fragile bamboo bridges would 
not take the fat well-fed brutes. Formations totally 
dependent on air supply found these animals an embar- 
rassment, as the requirements of fodder absorbed a 
substantial proportion of the available lift. 

The building of tracks and bridges was a pre- 
requisite to ensure mobility, and yet this was under- 
taken at a leisurely pace. The main engineering effort 
was always allotted to construction of living accom- 
modation and airfields. We paid a heavy price for 
this neglect in 1962. The concentration of troops 
from Towang to the Namka Ghu was carried out under 
crippling handicaps, in the foulest weather, and yet it 
was criticised by the very same gentlemen who had 
failed to provide the means for mobility before operations 
commenced. For lack of tracks, bridges, ponies and 
porters, units were moved without their first-line 
equipment and heavy weapons. On arrival their 
military utility was comparable to that of a posse of 
policemen rushed to deal with an unruly crowd. We 
coined the slogan of moving on “hard scales and pouch 
ammunition”, to cover up our inability to move and 
concentrate troops with their minimum fire-power. 

Complete reliance was placed on air transport 
despite uncertain weather, limited flying days and lack 
of forward dropping zones. Of course there was no 
question of finding and developing forward landing 
grounds, in the Himalayan Valleys. It is a principle 
that, at best, air supply is a bonus, and no operational 
plans should have been based on maintaining a large 
force by air-drops at indifferent dropping zones. To 
add to our problems wc could never provide enough 
supply-dropping equipment to meet all our commit- 
ments, forcing us to resort to the foolish policy of trying 
to retrieve and repair old equipment. There were 
frequent crises when wc could barely stave off starvation, 
let alone build up for a major operation. These facts 



HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS - 1960/61 


99 


were well known to the high planners long before 1962. 
We did not import our requirements or gear up domestic 
production to meet the unprecedented demand for 
parachutes and other dropping gear. 

The system of demanding and despatching the 
Army’s requirements was totally inadequte. Man-power 
and financial restrictions precluded the creation of the 
necessary organisation to ensure stocking, despatch and 
issue to forward troops. While a few Rear Airfield 
Supply Organisations were raised, there were no HQs 
Army Air Transport Organisations (AATO), or For- 
ward Airfield Supply Organisations (FASO) to handle 
stores at forward landing grounds or dropping zones. 
This burden was super-imposed on the forward troops 
themselves. This system could hardly cope with the 
day-to-day requirements, let alone the crisis of 
September-October 1962. My own formation, 7 In- 
fantry Brigade, was maintained from Gauhati Airfield 
and yet there was no proper system to control air-drops. 
There were no forward dumps to hold reserves for a 
major operation. Stores were being rushed frantically 
from Army Base Depots. Here again we paid for 
neglecting to raise the required units. There was 
utter confusion in rear areas, and the hurriedly assembled 
troops were not knitted-up in time. 

Perhaps the most serious omission was the lack of 
a joint commander to co-ordinate the overall deploy- 
ment of.the Army and the provision and control of the 
air transport requirements. Here I speak with full 
authority as the Brigadier-In-Charge of Administration. 
At Army/Air HQ level this co-ordination was attempted 
by holding periodic conferences. At lower levels there 
were further futile meetings to work out the details 
and check progress of air-lifts. Liaison and “old boy” 
methods had to be resorted to. The Air Force was 
under constant pressure to over-estimate their capacity 
to please some VIP in Delhi. They were seldom able 
to meet their commitments and targets. The constant 



100 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


shortfalls which were inevitable, resulted in the size 
of forward garrisons being dictated solely by the 
quantum of tonnages actually lifted or dropped, and 
not by the operational requirement. The troops were 
often put to considerable hardships. Had we seriously 
anticipated war, Government would have given this 
matter fresh thought. 

Ever since Independence we have been reluctant 
to create a joint command and staff despite the clear 
lessons of World War II. In the Himalayas air trans- 
port replaces motor and animal transport. It is the 
key to the planning of maintenance and operations, 
and a commander must have absolute authority over 
such administrative units. Stemming from the loose 
Chiefs of Staffs arrangements in Delhi, we devised the 
system of “liaison officers”, co-ordinating conferences 
and other procedures to achieve the desired co-opera- 
tion. Only a joint operational plan, which is binding 
on both Services, will achieve the aim of inducting and 
maintaining troops in the mountains. Sooner or later 
we shall have to think in terms of Army Aviation 
units for purely Army needs such as air transport, 
casualty evacuation, air observation etc. It is improper 
for a senior Army officer to have to beg for a helicopter 
to evacuate a dying man. Sometimes I have been asked 
to certify that a man would die unless he was evacuated 
by air at once. I do not see how I, an infantryman, 
could give such a gloomy forecast. 

Medical facilities and living conditions were always 
primitive. Yiarmers became complacent and assumed 
that troops could live and fight in the Himalayas with- 
out the basic items of necessaries and medical cover. 
In 1961/62 it was a crime to represent difficulties to 
visiting commanders and staff officers. The stock 
answer was “There is a general shortage in the country”, 
or “The troops will have to rough it out”, or “You will 
have to improvise under your own arrangements”. 
This latter substitute for administrative planning came 




102 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Chinese Betrayal of India —" the Chinese Government in 
their Note of 30th November 1961 warned that the 
Chinese Government would have every reason to send 
troops across the McMahon Line and enter the vast 
area between the crest of the Himalayas and their 
southern foot”. 

In December 1961 I was granted 60 days’ annual 
leave which I badly needed as I had had a harrowing 
time since General Verma left us in April 1961. The 
establishment of new posts in Ladakh was taken up in 
right earnest, despite the administrative limitations; 
I had to deal with frequent breakdowns in supplies 
and attend to numerous, frantic calls for evacuating 
dying jawans. ‘Whenever anything went wrong the 
blame was pin-pointed to the local formation, although 
we did not have the resources, the man -power or control 
over the weather or the Air Force. I was tired of the 
endless planning conferences and co-ordinating meetings 
with the Air Force, which was itself woefully handi- 
capped, by lack of aircraft and transport pilots. I had 
reached the end of my endurance. The only bright 
spot in those dismal days was Air Vice-Marshal Erhlich 
Pinto, who died so tragically in a helicopter crash in 
November 1963. He was the Air Officer Commanding- 
In-Chief, Western Air Command, and was responsible 
for air transport support operations. 

A. V. M. Pinto was one of the few truly outstanding 
Service officers, and a fine gentleman. His death was 
an incalculable loss to India, as he would surely have 
reached the very top. He was always co-operative and 
strained himself and his Command to the utmo.t to 
maintain the Army outposts. He was faced with in- 
surmountable odds but never lost his charm, urbanity 
and spirit^ of co-operation. His pilots faced daily 
hazards with remarkable courage and determination. 
They had worked long hours and flew cheerfully over 
the worst flying country in the world all the year round. 
Their unsung saga of courage should be known; when 



HALF-HEARTED PREPARATIONS - 1960/61 


103 


the American C-130 pilots first landed in Leh and 
Chusul in Ladakh, they were flabbergasted at the 
primitive navigational conditions under which the Air 
Force had been operating. 

A. V. M. Pinto was fearless and gave bis command, 
leadership of the front rank. He was always the first 
to blaze a new trail, and never asked his pilots to do 
anything that he was not prepared to do himself. He 
had an outstanding brain and unsurpassed experience 
of air operations. It was an honour and a pleasure to 
work under him. 

After each unrealistic and optimistic Delhi co- 
ordinating conference, he would take us aside and tell 
us to plan on a lower overall figure despite the official 
bullying at the highest level. His forecasts were un- 
cannily accurate. He maintained cordial relations with 
the Army despite the constant tension which could 
otherwise have broken out into open feuds. 

I spent my leave in Delhi. While attending the 
MCC-India Cricket Test Match at the Ferozeshah 
Kotla ground in mid-December, I accidentally met the 
Military Secretary, Major-General (now Lt.-General) 
Moti Sagar. He told me that Commander 7 Brigade 
was being evacuated sick, as he had asthma and could 
not stand the cold damp climate of Towang. He 
enquired whether I would be willing to replace him. 
I jumped at the chance as a heaven-sent opportunity 
to leave the Staff, and said that I was prepared to move 
immediately. Although this posting meant that I 
would be transferred from one forward area to another 
and normally I could have raised an objection, I was 
delighted. Had I known what was in store for me 
I wonder if I would have accepted this assignment as 
readily. 



Part II 

The Fateful Year — 1962 



Chapter VII 


The Defence of The McMahon Line 

The Battle Zone 

In January 1962 formal posting orders appointing 
me Commander of 7 Infantry Brigade were received. 
My Corps Commander, the late Lt.-Gen. Bikram Singh 
agreed to release me, although he was at first reluctant 
to do so, as we were all working under pressure planning 
the induction programme for 1962/63, and he was 
loath to change senior staff officers in mid-stream. 
He insisted that I attend the final induction conference 
in Delhi, as the Corps representative, which I gladly 
agreed to do as this would give me an opportunity to 
consult the Director of Military Operations (DMO), 
Brigadier, (now Maj.-Gen.) D. K. Palit, who had 
commanded 7 Brigade and knew the area. I had been so 
engrossed with the Western Sector (Ladakh) that I had 
no idea of what was happening in the Eastern Sector. 

I have already mentioned this bizarre conference 
and the comic bids for stallions, liot-houses and pilgrims. 

The DMO was very kind and briefed me personally. 
He was calm and assured. There was no apprehension 
of any hot war in the immediate future. He raised the 
question of the induction of 9 Punjab of 7 Brigade 
into Towang, during the height of winter in December 
1961. He was puzzled by this move which had 
stretched the slender air-lift resources without achieving 
any operational purpose. He recommended that I send 
them back to the plains unless I had a definite role for 
them, as the air-lift for the current induction season 
(1962) would be very tight and he did not want any 
more cries of starving garrisons. I promised to speak 
to my General Officer Commanding immediately on 
arrival. DMO then told me to keep an eye on the 



108 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Bhutan border area; otherwise there was nothing to 
worry about. 

I left Delhi on 27th February', reaching Rangiy* 
Station on 1st March, where \ was met by Dt.-Cob 
Byram Master, Commanding Officer of 9 Punjab 
and officiating Brigade Commander. He was latef 
promoted Brigadier and was killed in August 1965, ib 
the Akhnur Sector of Jammu and Kashmir during the 
Pakistan military action against this State. 

I was shocked to see the plight of the soldiers at 
Rangiva Junction. The station was littered with 
dishevelled men who were waiting for connecting trains 
to their final destinations. There were no rest-houses, 
no feeding arrangements and no bathing facilities. NO 
one seemed to be concerned at this inexcusable waste 
of man-power which would have been more useful JO 
forward areas and which often interfered with a unit’? 
leave programme. After 1962, General Chaudhuri 
and hi energetic Quarter Master Lt. Gen., General 
Paintal, rapidly put things right and established transit 
camps at all major junctions with canteens and bathing 
cubicles. He also arranged for a larger quota of 
military rail accommodation to cut down the wait at 
junctions. 

I stayed at my rear HQ, at Misamari. I made 
my first call on the General Officer Commanding 
(GOC) 4 Infantry Division, Major-General Amrik 
Singh, M.C. ^Vhen I raised the question of the 
induction of the Punjabis, he claimed that he was 
ordered to do so by higher HQ, and did not know the 
reasons nor had he deemed it necessary' or proper to 
question orders. When I told him of the DMO’s 
views he advised me to confine myself to orders from 
him. If the DMO had any r comments to offer he 
should take up the matter with HQ, Eastern Command- 
That was that. 

I had worked under General Amrik at Army' HQ. 
when he was my DMO and I w’as disappointed to find 



or Sela Pass -the mighty feature in the Kameng frontier 
sion of NEFA that attained international prominence in 
November 1962 (pg 111). 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 109 

him so irritable. He was normally a placid, quiet 
officer, who never raised his voice and seldom spoke 
unless forced to do so. Noticing the change in ^ his 
behaviour, I was certain that the strain of ‘inducting 
troops into NEFA and the subsequent muddle had 
begun to take its toll. 

After welcoming me to the 4th Division, he s«it 
me to the General Staff Officer Grade I (GSO I), 
Lt.-Col. Manohar Singh for detailed briefing. After 
scanning through the Divisional Operation Order, 
Manohar told me that my main problem in the coming 
months would be the setting up of new posts under the 
Forward Policy, commencing from April under the 
code-name ‘Operation Onkar’. It will be recalled 
that General Kaul had visited Gauhati in February 
and issued orders for establishing these posts. Manohar 
also told me that the Divisional Operation Order was 
being revised and as such there was no point in wasting 
time on the old one. 

After this chat I went to see the Assistant Adjutant 
and Quarter Master General (AA&QMG), the senior 
administrative officer of the Division. After giving 
me the administrative layout, he emphasised the 
imperative and urgent necessity of returning supply- 
dropping equipment which was lying with forward 
posts. His main injunction was that I should personally 
go into this matter as higher HQ, were complanung 
about the tardiness of 7 Brigade and I might get into 
trouble. 

My first reaction to such casualness in a forward 
formation HQ, was that we were playing the same game 
in NEFA as we were in Ladakh. There was no opera- 
tional urgency. The lackadaisical approach of fumy 
HQ, which itself stemmed from the^ lack of a firm, 
clear National Policy, had eventually infected everyone 
down the line. 

The next two days I spent visiting my units in 
Misamari. I found a large number of detachments, 



Sketch 1 

Knmeiit; frontier Division or NCi'A-lhe route from the Brahmaputra 
Valley to the McMahon Line. 

Red lines: Roads /Tracks 
Blue lines: Rivers. 

WacV Vnehurcsi Mountain Ranges. 



the DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 


109 


him so irritable. He was normally a placid, quiet 
officer, who never raised his voice and seldom spoke 
unless forced to do so. Noticing the change in his 
behaviour, I was certain that the strain of ‘inducting’ 
troops into NEFA and the subsequent muddle had 
begun to take its toll. 

After welcoming me to the 4th Division, he sent 
me to the General Staff Officer Grade I (GSO I), 
Lt.-Col. Manohar Singh for detailed briefing. After 
scanning through the Divisional Operation Order, 
Manohar told me that my main problem in the coming 
months would be the setting up of new posts under the 
Forward Policy, commencing from April under the 
code-name ‘Operation Onkar’. It will be recalled 
that General Kaul had visited Gauhati in February 
and issued orders for establishing these posts. Manohar 
also told me that the Divisional Operation Order was 
being revised and as such there was no point in wasting 
time on the old one. 

After this chat I went to see the Assistant Adjutant 
and Quarter Master General (AA&QMG), the senior 
administrative officer of the Division. After giving 
me the administrative layout, he emphasised the 
imperative and urgent necessity of returning supply- 
dropping equipment which was lying with forward 
posts. His main injunction was that I should personally 
go into this matter as higher HQ, were complaining 
about the tardiness of 7 Brigade and I might get into 
trouble. 

My first reaction to such casualness in a forward 
formation HQ, was that we were playing the same game 
in NEFA as we were in Ladakh. There was no opera- 
tional urgency. The lackadaisical approach of Army 
HQ, which itself stemmed from the lack of a firm, 
clear National Policy, had eventually infected everyone 
down the line. 

The next two days I spent visiting my units in 
Misamari. I found a large number of detachments, 



110 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


rear parties and vehicles which had been left behind 
as the men could not be fed by air, in Towang. 

Colonel Master and 1 left Misamari for Towang 
in a jeep. I was glad to have the opportunity of 
travelling over my Line of Communication, as the state 
of the road was a critical factor in my operational 
readiness and capability. 

We halted for a cup of tea at Chacko at an altitude 
of 7,000 feet, having climbed steadily from the Foothills. 

I found a cluster of shabby huts, cheerfully accepted as 
a ‘rest-camp’ by the simple Indian jawan. The 
formation had been in Kameng for nearly two years 
and if this was the best that we were able to achieve 
then I shuddered to think of what the position in 
Towang would be like. 

The first day’s drive took us to Dirang at 5,500 feet, 
where I spent two days with 1 Sikhs. The next day 
the CO, Lt.-Col. ‘Baij’ Mehta, who was with me at the 
Staff College in 1950, briefed me on his role. I was 
more than a little surprised when he told me that he 
was ‘responsible’ for the operational commitments of 

II Infantry Brigade - the third Brigade of the Division, 
which had been ‘loaned’ to Nagaland. After some 
cross-examination I found that there were no plans to 
cater for the probability of 7 Brigade being committed 
before the arrival of 1 1 Brigade. This would have to 
be sorted out with Division, as I could not have two 
aims, the tasks of two brigades and operate over more 
than 200 miles. 

The next day I visited the Border Roads HQ, at 
Dirang. The Commanding Officer of the Task Force, 
a capable Engineer officer, Lt.-Col. Sandhu, gave me 
a lucid resume of Ills plans and progress. The Border 
Roads Organisation commenced survey operations in 
1960. It had taken some months to reconnoitre and 
select the final alignment; assess the task and position 
the necessary men, stores and equipment. It was not 
till 1962 that a fair-weather one-ton road was opened 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 


111 


for traffic in the dry months. Sandhu had achieved 
remarkable results during the short period with the 
resources allotted to him and in the face of the enormous 
difficulties posed by the southern slopes of the 
Himalayas. He told me that his major problem was 
to find stones, with which to lay a metal foundation 
for the road, at convenient distances. This was 
retarding the project. He said that the roads in this 
region would take many years to settle down to the 
standards of an all-weather hill road. The excavated 
hill-sides would take anything up to 10 years to bed 
down to their final angle of repose; and until then -we 
would have to learn to live with frequent, major land- 
slides. These facts were known to the planners at 
Delhi. In fact, Mr. Menon has since admitted that 
“Government was trying to build roads that would 
normally take 12 years, in a matter of 2 years”. 

We left Dirang for Towang via Senge and Sela 
Pass. The road in this sector was barely fit for 
a jeep. There were numerous landslips and slushy 
patches where the hill-sides had been cut to widen 
the track. We had to abandon the jeep twice 
and proceed in vehicles positioned on the far side of 
these slips. After a brief halt at Senge where I met a 
detachment of the Sikhs, manning the transit arrange- 
ments with their own resources, we left for Sela — the 
nughty feature that achieved international prominence 
in November 1962. At Sela we had to abandon 
hope of completing the journey in a vehicle, as the Pass 
'was impassable due to heavy snow-piles. The Engineers 
tried tneir best to clear a track but failed as it snowed 
steadily and heavily throughout. Their superhuman 
efforts, at a height of over 13,000 feet, were of no avail. 
I decided to continue on foot as there were no shelters 
at Sela and I did not fancy a night in the open, on the 
wind-swept Pass. 

Wc reached Nuranaung and halted. I had had 
m Y first experience of marching at heights over 12,000 



112 


HIMALAYAN III.tTNDF.il 


feet, in biting cold. My feet were frozen as Army 
boots arc not designed to keep one’s feet warm in the 
snow. Nuranaung is reputed to lie the coldest place 
in NEFA. Due to the steepness of the mountains 
surrounding the narrow valley, it gets a maximum of 
two hours of sunlight a day. At Nuranaung I inspected 
another makeshift transit point for the Animal Trans- 
port Company men who ply daily, in relays, carrying 
mail. I did not envy tnese dedicated mule-drivers 
having to spend nights under a tarpaulin with open 
sides. Despite these hardships they were cheerful and 
proud of their humble contribution to die welfare of 
the Towang Garrison. Hut for their grit and hardi- 
ness we would be cut ofT from our homes. I would 
like to record my tribute to these fine men, whose 
saga of toughness and devotion to duty docs not receive 
due recognition. They ask nothing but that they 
arc remembered when small amenities arc handed 
out, reasonable transit facilities, a warm bed and a hot 
meal after tramping over the most incredible terrain 
in the world. 

After a restless night due to lack of oxygen we 
resumed the journey on foot to Towang via Jang. The 
going was now all downhill through a Iccch-infcstcd 
forest. We were received at Jang by the ad hoc 9 Punjab 
detachment in charge of the transit point. We carried 
on in a jeep which had been sent from Towang to pick 
us up. Just as I was having visions of making a trium- 
phal drive into my HQ., we got bogged down in deep 
mud, some five miles short of Towang and had to 
complete the final lap on foot through more mud and 
dirt. I reached my HQ at 6.30 p.m. dishevelled, 
tired and depressed. 

During the last minutes before reaching my camp, 
I thought about the so-called Line of Communication 
from the Foothills to Towang. I was horrified at the 
prospect of being dependent on such a devilish route 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 


113 


over which to maintain and concentrate my force, in 
the event of hostilities with China. As I was the 
Commander, all the “resources” of the Brigade and 
the Border Roads had been placed at my disposal. 
If this was my experience, then what would be the 
fate of the men who would be scrambled from 
Misamari ? 

The route from the Foothills to Towang was in- 
credible. There was a steep climb to a place called 
Eagle’s Nest (9,000 feet) ; a further climb to Bomdilla 
at 10,000 feet; a drop to Dirang (5,500 feet) ; the ascent 
to Sela Pass (13,500 feet); the vertical drop to Jang 
(5,000 feet); and the final climb to Towang at 10,000 
feet. The whole road had been aligned across the 
grain of the southern slopes of the Himalayas and was 
subject to frequent landslides. I doubted if a vehicle 
could do more than two trips before requiring a major 
overhaul. 

To recapitulate, there were no trooping arrange- 
ments and there could be no certain time-table for any 
concentration from the plains. This was obviously 
the critical factor as a sizeable portion of my Brigade 
was at Misamari. All the arrangements I had seen 
were makeshift, improvised and inadequate. In fact 
we were working on the good old ‘Jai Hind’ basis, as the 
entire stretch was manned by my own men, with 
borrowed pots and pans and wireless sets. There were 
no supply or petrol dumps en to ate. All this was 
inexplicable as General Thapar, the Chief, and his 
CGS, General Kaul, had visited Towang in November 
1961, and had traversed the same route. Surely, they 
could not have been satisfied with what they had seen 
with their own eyes! Kaul, surprisingly, omits mention 
of tins November visit in his memoirs. 

The next morning I had my first view of Towang 
an d the Brigade camp. After two years we were still 
living under primitive conditions. The Commander’s 



114 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


hut was a cold, draughty and an altogether miserable 
dwelling place from where to plan the defence of half 
of NEFA. Towang was a family station for the Assam 
Rifles and the NEFA Administration, and as such they 
were provided with comfortable accommodation - an 
invidious distinction that caused some heart-burning. 

The accommodation for the men was even worse, 
as they were living in flimsy basha-type hutments with 
bamboo matting walls - a type of living quarters that 
was totally unsuitable for the damp cold of Towang. 
Initially the responsibility for building troop accommo- 
dation had been given to the Civil Central Public Works 
Department, but they were unable to keep pace ivith 
the induction of units. Eventually the local garrison 
was ordered to build its own accommodation using 
troop labour, assisted by Engineer supervisors. 

The only satisfactory feature was the peace-time 
medical set-up in Towang. This is a factor that has 
a vital bearing on the morale of troops marooned in 
the mountains. Without a helipad, with uncertain 
weather conditions and an uncompleted road, a man 
would die of even a simple bout of pneumonia or of 
an inflamed appendix. This is a frightening thought. 
In 1960 a Mobile Surgical Unit (MSU) and a Field 
Ambulance had been moved to Towang. The move 
was carried out during the monsoon using porters and 
ponies as there was no road. Within a week of their 
arrival Major Jayaraman, the OG, a brilliant surgeon, 
performed a life-saving abdominal surgery using 
petromax lamps and hurricane lights. Thereafter 
everything possible was done to house and look after 
this invaluable unit. By 1961 a 25-bedded dieted 
hospital was established. Gradually a cement floor was 
provided and annexes built to protect medical stores 
and provide recreational centres. An X-Ray plant was 
installed in due course. The plant was carried over 
Sela Pass by 16 porters. The Army ‘hospital* became 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE ' 115 


extremely popular with the civilians and the locals* 
who had not previously enjoyed the blessings of modern 
medicine and surgery. Great credit is due to Colonel 
A. K. Maitra, the Senior Medical Officer of the Division; 
to Major V. Jayaraman, the Surgeon, Lt.-Col. K. B. 
Sen of the field ambulance and Major Maffick the 
anesthetist. I did have one nagging doubt. How 
would this static set-up function in the event of war? 

The first view of Towang is breath-taking. It is a 
beautiful habitation, with some eight villages grouped 
round rich grazing grounds. Towang actually means 
a grazing ground. The place is dominated by the 
Monastery, one of the most famous in Lamaist Buddhism. 
The sturdy, healthy people of Mongoloid origin, wore 
a picturesque dress of red hand-woven wool, topped 
by a distinctive five-tasselled skull cap. Wherever I saw 
them they appeared to be carrying heavy loads cheer- 
fully and exchanging bawdy jokes and gossip. Their 
life was changing fast with the arrival of the Army and 
the Border Roads. Large numbers were employed in 
road gangs and as porters. I was soon to find out 
that they were the prime source of mobility of my 
Brigade. Truly democratic, despite the dominance of 
monks, they were not afraid to look anyone in the eye. 
Simple, hospitable and generous, the Monpas, as they 
are known, were among the finest people that it has 
been my pleasure to ,comc across during 25 years of 
service in many parts of the world. Like many a 
traveller before me I wondered whether we were really 
so far advanced that we should label them “backward 
tribes’*. They could teach us a thing or two about 
manners and culture. As farmers they were doing an 
excellent job of looking after themselves in one of the 
most difficult farming areas in the world. 

- . My first formal call was on the Political Officer, a 
delightful gentleman named Mr. W. Shaiza. I met his 
staff, including the official interpreters, in their pictur- 



116 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


esque uniforms. I was to see a lot of these gentlemen as 
they always accompanied me on rny tours and visits. 
They were very useful in establishing contact with the 
Monpas with whom we could not otherwise com- 
municate. 

My next call was to pay my respects to the Head 
Lama of the Towang Monastery — known as the 
Khempo. I was very impressed with the transparent 
holiness and dignity of this remarkable man. He was 
accepted as an Incarnation of the first rank and had 
received his theological training in Tibet. He was 
revered by the Monpas. Fortunately he took to me 
and permitted me the honour of becoming a personal 
friend. He went out of his way to demonstrate his 
regard for me. His patronage was of practical benefit 
to us. He visited my hut accompanied by his full 
entourage and with the full ceremonial pomp and 
grandeur befitting an Incarnation. When a new hut 
was built for me, he insisted on performing the opening 
ceremony and blessing the premises. He told me that 
it was essential to do this, on an auspicious day, to 
safeguard me from evil, as I was at that time under 
evil influences. Looking back, I am certain that he 
enjoyed clairvoyant faculties. In time I came to love 
and revere this good, holy man. He carried his 
immense knowledge of Buddhism and his vast powers 
lightly and with great humility. 

Towang, birth-place of the Sixth Dalai Lama, 
beautiful and an idyllic spot, was to be the scene of the 
most frustrating months of my entire military career. 
I spent the loneliest and most agonising days of my life 
brooding over the casualness of our planning and 
official indifference to the hardships of my men. There 
were no daily papers or books to relieve the monotony 
of life. For a Commander there was no companionship 
or diversion. In such circumstances only a saint can 
combat fits of depression and foreboding. I often 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 


117 


pondered at my continuous involvement with the 
China issue. It might have been easier if I had not 
been an eye-witness of our tepid military response to 
the Chinese threat. I might have at least enjoyed the 
proverbial bliss of the ignorant. The months in 
Towang were easily the most fruitless, frustrating and 
frightening of my life. * 

However, there was little time for introspection or 
regrets. I had to tackle the operational matters in 
hand. I had entered the fateful year of 1962 with the 
rather light-hearted stocking conference in Delhi ; with 
calm assurances from Army HQ; Division’s preoccu- 
pation with opening posts and slow progress on road- 
building. I wondered if we were really serious about 
the possibility of war. I feared that the air of un- 
reality might infect the rank and file. The Junior 
Commissioned Officers had all been through World 
War II and had practical experience of what makes 
for war preparations and what measures indicate 
seriousness and the imminence of war. They would 
never believe that the Towang Garrison was based 
there for any war-like activity. 

My most urgent priorities were to review opera- 
tional plans with special reference to the concentration 
plan, in the event of war; and to prevent the men from 
going to seed if we did not have to fight. 

Strategy Unrelated to Means 

I immediately plunged into a series of conferences 
with my COs and my staff. I asked my Commanding 
Officers (COs) to give me their frank opinion about 
what they thought of their tasks and whether their 
battalions were capable of carrying out these tasks. 
The CO of an Indian infantry battalion is the most 
important individual in our military set-up. He is 
the only one who knows the true state of his unit’s 
readiness for war. The denigration of this vital 



118 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


appointment in the years preceding the Sino-Indian 
War of 1962 played a major part in much that went 
wrong in those days. Yes-men, masquerading as 
commanding Officers, will land the Army in the same 
straits in. which we found ourselves in 1962. I have 
deliberately included this aside to bring out that the 
true state of affairs pertaining to the shortcomings of 
the Towang Garrison was well kmnvn to the COs. 
I gave them full freedom to express their opinions and 
I based my own judgement on their advice. I worked 
on the old Army principle that no CO would lightly 
admit that his unit is not ready for the ordained military 
task. When he does admit this unpleasant fact, he 
should be admired and not damned. In 1962 forth- 
right COs were not easy to come by. I was fortunate 
as both Lt.-Col. B. S. Ahluwalia and Lt.-Col. Master 
were not yes-men. 

After consulting my COs, I studied the Divisional 
Operation Order and the appreciations of my pre- 
decessors. This is not only sensible but courteous to 
boot, as only fools try to imply that they have to undo 
the work of all those who preceded them. I got an 
invaluable insight into the problems of Kameng 
Frontier Division by studying the views of Brigadiers 
Palit and Ranbir Singh, both experienced and decorated 
commanders. Brigadier Palit is the well-known Indian 
military author and critic whose books have been widely 
read throughout the world. 

The tasks given to 7 Infantry Brigade were to: 

(a) defend Towang — the primary role; 

(b) prevent any penetration of the McMahon 
Line; 

(e) establish Assam Rifles post; and 

(d) assist Assam Rifles posts. 

It was at once obvious that the planning seemed 
to be a little haywire and was based on invalid assump- 
tions. The area of responsibility was abnormal for a 
brigade. The plans were vague and academic. There 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 


119 


were convenient gaps in the administrative paragraphs 
of the Divisional Operation Order that could hamstring 
operational aspirations. 

The best operational plans can only be implemented 
by infantry units who are equipped and trained for 
their roles. For a new Brigade Commander the battle- 
worthiness of his battalions becomes the first and fore- 
most item for investigation. 

The advice of my COs and an impartial assess- 
ment of the factual position revealed that there were 
insurmountable obstacles in the fulfilment of our 
operational tasks. I shall go into these in some detail 
as they will explain what went wrong in September- 
Octobcr 1962. 

I found that my men were employed in building 
a helipad; collecting logs of wood for the construction 
of shelters and manning the dropping zone. The 
helipad absorbed 1,200 men a day for over three 
months — a job which two or three bulldozers could have 
completed in a few days. Moreover, there was a good 
helipad in Towang proper, but this was not acceptable 
to the Air Force who demanded a helipad at an elevation 
under 7,000 feet. In those days the system was that 
“if the bloody Army want helicopters, they can bloody 
well produce a helipad”. The Air Force was doing 
thc_ Army a “favour”. It is interesting that after the 
Chinese intruded into our territory in September 1962 
and when all this inter-service bickering was. shed., the 
Air Force used the same helipad that they had rejected 
on “technical grounds”. In the event, 1,200 men a 
day were used to dear an entire hill. They had to go 
down 2,500 feet, work the whole day and climb back 
to their unit lines. This senseless and wasteful effort 
could have been sorted out by a joint commander, who 
would have been serving the Nation and not the Army 
or Air Force. 

. The Border Roads Organisation could not help 
with the loan of earth-moving equipment due to 



120 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


“accounting and other procedural difficulties”. They 
belonged to another Ministry and sundry preliminary 
sanctions would have to be obtained. One day the 
Indian Government is going to be asphyxiated by its 
own procedures! The Commander of - the Border 
Roads was an old Staff College colleague of mine. 
I appealed for his help when I saw this waste of first- 
class Infantrymen, as labourers on an improper task, 
at the expense of training. The trade union of staff 
officers in the Army is very strong, and Brigadier Manx 
ordered up some earth-moving equipment. He requested 
me not to disclose the fact, as he was “wangling” tile 
expenditure on some other task. This was an in- 
excusable state of affairs. An expensive Border Roads 
Organisation for “developing border communications” 
was operating in the area and the commander was 
willing to help, provided the procedural difficulties were 
sorted out. Helipads are covered by the term “com- 
munications”, and should logically have been accorded 
priority in the Border Roads programme. 

The remainder of the garrison was sent to collect 
wooden beams from Pankentang, at a height of 14,000 
feet, for constructing shelters. This project was accorded 
operational immediate priority, as the work had to be 
completed by a given day to avoid audit objections and 
the lapse of funds. The training of units was secondary. 
I found that units had not trained for some time; 
1/9 Gorkhas not since they were inducted in 1960. No 
annual classification or field firing had been possible 
due to lack of ranges. The mortar crews had not 
fired a bomb for a long time. The Civil authorities 
were finding it difficult to “acquire” a range as the 
locals were not agreeable to handing over the sites 
selected by us to meet technical and safety standards. 

All units were under-posted. They had been 
heavily milked of NCOs and JCOs for new raisings 
in their groups. There was a constant shortage of 
officers, which was unacceptable in forward formations 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 121 

where the demand for extraneous duties is heavy e.g. 
to man the Line of Communication, for rear parties, 
long-range reconnaissances, for the establishment of 
Assam Rifles posts under Operation ONKAR and 
so on. 

1 /9 Gorkha Rifles was a first-class infantry battalion 
with an impressive war record. They had distin- 
guished themselves in Italy in the battle of Cassino in 
1943. They had fought gallantly at Poonch in the 
Kashmir War in 1948, In March 1962 they were a 
tired and listless unit which had suffered incredible 
hardships for two years. They were due to be relieved 
in June 1962 and were looking forward to a spell of 
peace and to rejoin their families. 

9 Punjab (my second battalion) was another first- 
rate unit. It was to fight with great elan and deter- 
mination in the war of September-October 1962. It 
too had had a gruelling time, being inducted at the 
height of winter, without adequate shelters in Towang. 
No one to this day knows who ordered their move. 

My third battalion, 1 Sikhs, was, as we know, at 
Dirang Dzong as it could not be maintained in 
Towang. 

In spite of the operational tasks, the garrison at 
Towang was subject to a man-power ceiling of 1,700 
up to November 1961 and 2,400 from November 1961 
to September 1962; the remainder being located at 
Misamari. The full fighting complement of an Infantry 
Brigade exceeds 3,500 men, but the size and constitution 
of 7 Infantry Brigade was dictated entirely by the 
availability of air effort and supply-dropping equip- 
ment; the operational requirement was secondary. 
The composition of the garrison at Towang was laid 
down by HQ 4 Division, and catered for the require- 
ments of large numbers of Pioneers and Construction 
Companies to assist in building accommodation, and 
two Animal Transport Companies to return the supply- 
dropping equipment retrieved by forward troops. 



122 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


These animals used up most of the air-drops allotted 
to the Brigade for their own bulky rations. 

There were serious shortcomings in our ability to 
fulfil the operational tasks laid down by Division. The 
first was that although a sizeable portion of 7 Brigade 
could not be located in Towang, no warning period 
had been laid down for the concentration of the 
remainder, before the Brigade was committed to battle. 
There were no clear-cut concentration plans or arrange- 
ments for organising and controlling moves. Although 
Border Roads had built a fair-weather one-ton road 
to Towang, no staging facilities had been provided on 
grounds of economy, and this burden too devolved on 
7 Brigade. This Brigade was also responsible for 
manning Gauhati Airfield (for non- AS C) despatches 
and the entire Line of Communcation from Misamari 
to Towang. Tins system inevitably broke down during 
the emergency of September-October 1962. Further 
ad hoc measures were resorted to, in that the GO of 
4 Division’s Medium Machine-Gun Battalion was given 
this task. As anticipated, the concentration of troops 
was haphazard, slow and uncertain- The troops were 
put to avoidable hardships and reached the battlefield 
exhausted. One battalion had to abandon their vehicles 
at Dirang and walk over the Sela Pass, as there were 
no petrol pumps at Dirang to fill up the vehicles. 
Planners sitting in Lucknow and Delhi did not appre- 
ciate the administrative problem and entertained rash 
hopes of quickly concentrating large forces. 

The second major factor was that there were no , 
reserve stocks at Towang to issue to troops that would 
have to be inducted in an emergency. Even the laid 
down, normal stocking policy had not been achieved. 
My appeals to locate stocks in Towang were not heeded. 

I was called a dreamer. How could India, a poor 
country, afford to tie up stocks for an emergency, 
when it was barely possible to maintain existing 
garrisons? I had failed both as a staff officer and as 
a commander to convince my superiors of the imperative 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 


123 


need to build up reserves close to possible areas of 
operations. 

7 Infantry Brigade troops left behind in rear 
areas, would not be acclimatised for operations at 
altitudes over 15,000 feet. A minimum of six weeks 
had been laid down by the medical authorities. There 
would have to be a guarantee of a long enough warning 
period to move and acclimatise troops. 

Units were poorly trained and equipped. They 
had a strength of only 400 bayonets per battalion instead 
of 800, the remainder being on leave, training courses, 
or left behind in Misamari. The two battalions in 
Towang had the battle strength of only one! 

The road to Towang was only a fair-weather 
one-ton road. Its capacity was limited even under 
ideal conditions, and was negligible during and after 
the monsoons. 

There were other operational considerations which 
had a major bearing on our plans. I was not satisfied 
with some of the assumptions made, as they appeared 
to be based on invalid factors. All our plans were 
based on the assumption, presumably an Intelligence 
appreciation, that the maximum strength that the 
Chinese would deploy was one regiment which is 
equivalent to our brigade. In the event, the Chinese 
used two divisions in 1962. Now what was the basis 
for the categorical assumption that the Chinese were 
limited to just one regiment? The answer is very 
simple. Since our air-lift would not permit us to 
deploy more than one brigade, then it was axiomatic 
that the Chinese also should not exceed our strength, 
or hoy else would senior commanders answer awkward 
questions from forward troops and commanders ? Most 
average generals plan to counter the worst the enemy 
can do. We believed in planning for the best case, 
and limited the enemy’s potential to suit us. 

. ? Brigade was required to guard three approaches, 
with no laterals. In fact nothing more than a string 



124 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


of outposts, with regular troops at intervals could be 
deployed. 

Assam Rifles posts were deployed non-tactically 
and they were ill-armed and even worse equipped than 
the Regular Army. At best, they could only function 
as border check-posts and yet their task was “to fight 
to the last man and the last round” - a high-sounding 
slogan coined by someone far in the rear, and one 
that is more easy to issue than to obey. Although they 
were under the operational command of 7 Infantry 
Brigade, their administration was under the Inspector 
General of the Assam Rifles in Shillong. This system 
cut across all accepted canons of military organisation. 

There were no inter-communication facilities/ 
arrangements between Assam Rifles’ posts and the 
nearest Army sub-unit. Tins was in spite of the fact 
that the Army was “responsible for assisting” these 
posts in the event of trouble. The standard explanation 
was that there was “a general shortage of wireless sets 
in the country”. 

The Assam Rifles were a separate private army of 
the External Affairs Ministry. And who would dare 
to bell the cat about this extraordinary command 
system ? 

The last major deficiency that was transparent 
was the lack of any worthwhile Intelligence. There 
was no overall appreciation of Chinese intentions and 
preparations. We were totally dependent on the local 
civilian Intelligence Bureau representative, and in- 
formation given was useless for rational planning 
purposes. Not one Intelligence appreciation was 
received from Army HQ. I do not know if Army HQ, 
ever got any assessment from the Joint Intelligence 
Committee. If they did, they certainly never con- 
sidered it worthwhile passing on any information to 
commanders in the front line. Lacking Intelligence, 
wc kept on basing our actions on what we were able 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 125 

to do, and not to counter the worst the Chinese could 
do. We were like bad chess players who make moves 
without anticipating the opponent’s moves, or expecting 
him to counter our moves. 

I decided to carry out a personal reconnaissance 
of the main areas of my responsibility before making 
any representation to Divisional HQ,. My first 
destination was Khenzemane on the McMahon Line, 
in the Thagla Ridge area. I left within 20 days of 
reaching Towang, although it is normally wiser to 
allow a longer period for acclimatisation. The urgency 
was necessitated by the impending establishment of 
Dhola Post in the area. 

The aims of the reconnaissance were to study the 
state of the tracks and bridges; as well as the stages 
required to move troops to “assist” the Assam Rifles 
posts located on this axis. I would also have the 
opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of the main 
tactical features, availability of dropping zones and 
availability of porters. 

In mountainous terrain it is important for com- 
manders at all levels to have a clear idea of the 
ground over which their troops may have to operate; 
as it is otherwise impossible to appreciate the problems 
of mobility in terms of time and space. In the Indian 
Army of 1962, the need was even greater. Many 
key officers had served only in the plains of the Punjab 
or on static picquet duty in Kashmir. Many senior 
commanders and staff officers had not commanded 
in an operational area and practically none in 
mountain formations. This is not a criticism but a 
statement of a well-known fact. After the Chinese 
incursion in September 1962, these officers suddenly 
found themselves ordering the moves of units over 
stee P. paths and severe gradients, in appalling weather 
conditions. Everybody kept yelling at everybody 
else to “get a move on”. Instead of pre-planning, 



126 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


harmony and mutual understanding, we had ^ the sad 
spectacle of junior officers cursing their seniors and 
saying “why the hell don’t these staff and backroom 
experts come and see what it is like out here”. Senior 
officers cannot always walk over every piece of ground 
in their area of responsibility. They are at least expected 
to fly over the country to get an idea of what their 
troops are facing and to issue realistic orders. It is a 
tragic fact that no one of importance had visited, or 
flown over the Nyamjang Chu Valley. Some had not 
even seen Towang. These officers made rash promises 
of concentrating forces by given dates that could not 
be implemented. Orders, counter-orders and frequent 
postponement of promised dates resulted in recrimina- 
tions and accusations and threats of sacking those who 
were not achieving the miracles that were being ordained 
from above. 

I was accompanied by Lt.-Gol. Ahluwalia of the 
Gorkhas, who was responsible for this sector and who 
knew the area well. The Political Officer at Towang 
very kindly deputed an officer from his department to 
assist us. I was also given an interpreter. Unfor- 
tunately I was also given the sturdiest pony in Towang, 
owned by an even sturdier Tibetan woman. This was 
extremely embarrassing as I could not very well ride 
while a lady led my riding pony. I decided to forego 
the comfort of the ride and walk the whole -way. There 
was little rumpus after the first day’s march, when the 
lady complained that I had insulted her and her pony 
by refusing to ride. Her deduction was simple — that 
I considered the pony unworthy to carry a brigadier. 
To please her I was forced to sit on the sure-footed 
beast for at least the last 200 yards before entering the 
main village. Everybody was satisfied with this solution. 
I saved pride in my manhood and she kept her pride 
in her horse. 

The first stage was an easy one of about 10 miles, 
to a large village called Thonglen. The idea was to 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 


127 


meet the Headman (Gaonbura) and the villagers; as 
.well as get acclimatised in easy stages. In the hill, 
areas, it is. an important function of commanders to 
gain the good-will of the local inhabitants, as this has 
a vital bearing on porterage and thus the mobility of 
the force. Indeed, day-to-day maintenance would 
be very difficult without the help of the lovable and 
simple Monpas of Kameng Frontier Division. Wc 
were greeted by the whole village who had obviously 
taken a day off from their arduous daily chores. I went 
through the usual ceremony of exchanging scarves with 
the headman and drinking the local brew -a rice 
beer which was surprisingly tasty and nourishing. The 
villagers were extremely friendly and hospitable. They 
are always happy to receive visitors. 

Throughout my tour of the villages along the 
Nyamjang Chu, I found the Monpas an intelligent 
people with a well organised agricultural system. 
Despite the harshness of nature they have terraced 
fields and grow a variety of cereals, vegetables and 
fruits. They are incredibly hardy and both men and 
women can carry heavy' loads over long marches. 
They work long hours in their fields or in the jungles 
collecting wood. 

They have a fast indigenous dye and produce 
simple but attractive paintings on woodwork. They 
are adept at weaving. They love dressing up in 
colourful clothes and wear a variety of beads and 
exquisite jewellery. A Monpa village turned out in 
ceremonial dress is an unforgettable sight. Even their 
headgear and footwear flaunt diverse colours. 

The advent of the Army, Border Roads and the 
Civil Administration had upset their traditional life 
and suddenly they found themselves earning and 
spending large sums of money, in place of the traditional 
barter system. I was told that at first they did not 
know what to do with this strange means of payment 
for labour, services and goods, and just stuffed their 



128 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


notes in bamboo containers. Later when the Admin- 
istration opened stores they shopped enthusiastically for 
the things that we are pleased to call the blessings of 
science and civilisation. They love coloured rain-capes 
and plastic buckets. Bhutanese traders soon learnt to 
cater to their tastes and reaped a rich harvest at the 
monthly bazaar in Towang. 

I found that the Army was very popular and all 
the credit for the excellent relations with. the Monpas 
was due to the 1/9 Gorkhas. Gorkha troops are the 
best ambassadors of the Indian Army. They love 
children and endear themselves to the local population 
wherever they go. They never cheat and spend freely. 
The high regard in which the Army was held in the 
outlying villages was invaluable; it was an asset for 
which I am grateful to the Gorkhas, for without the all- 
out, spontaneous help of the Monpas in September 
1962, we would have been in dire straits. 

I decided to do my bit to improve relations with 
the headmen of the villages which I had visited on this 
first reconnaissance. I invited them to visit me when- 
ever they had occasion to come to Towang. At first 
the response was extremely poor and they seemed 
diffident and shy to call on an important man. But 
when I explained that Towang was my “village” and 
I was the headman and as such it w’as my duty, pleasure 
and privilege to entertain them and reciprocate their 
hospitality, they readily fell in with my wishes. There- 
after they would call without any inhibitions. After a 
few' rounds of rum we would all sit round a fire and 
be on the friendliest terms, arguing on equal basis. 
Our hill people are very democratic and proud. 

The next stage from Thonglen was to Lumla, about 
12 miles away, where we had the HQ, of an Assam 
Rifles Wing. I inspected the Wing besides noting the 
availability of a dropping zone for use in an emergency. 

Shakti village was the next halting place. We 
had a detachment of the Gorkhas stationed here. On 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 


129 


the way we had lunch at a big village called Gyspu, 
famous for its lush apples and peaches. We had the 
same friendly reception and a repetition of the scarf 
ceremony. 

I was received by Captain P. K. Hazra, the 
Regimental Medical Officer of the Gorkhas, who was 
the de facto infantry company commander. Capt. Hazra 
was the ideal type of medical officer. He had been 
with the Battalion since its induction, and had 
shared the hardships of the unit. At Shakti he was 
the only officer and yet he was cheerful and kept him- 
self busy with his hobbies of reading and photography. 
He was the father-confessor of the villagers and was 
loved by them. They came to him for all sorts of 
minor ailments. He did much ' to help curb the in- 
cidence of goitre, which is endemic in Kameng. 

The Headman of Shakti appeared to be somewhat 
reserved and I could not get him to unbend and tell 
me what was bothering him. I thought that he may 
have had some trouble with the soldiers and was 
reluctant to talk in front of the GO. After a little 
coaxing he admitted that he was very annoyed with 
the Army, because wc owed him a large sum of money 
for the past two years, and he had been unable to obtain 
payment despite numerous trips to Towang. He had 
apparently supplied some timber and labour to the 
Army in 1960 and held a receipt from a major. 
Lt.-Col. Ahluwalia confirmed the correctness of the 
claim and told me that payment had been withheld 
due to some audit queries about who had ordered the 
wood; why it was ordered and was ' the person 
authorised to place such a large order and so on ad 
nauseam. The emergency of 1959, when the Army 
had rushed to NEFA on orders from the Prime Minister 
was aparently not known to, or was forgotten, by these 
custodians of the exchequer. I rushed a signal to my 
General and said that I wanted the amount sent by 
the fastest means, failing which I was at liberty to 



130 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


represent the matter to higher authority. It was 
outrageous that these simple, honest men should be 
kept waiting all these years, while we were sorting out 
and adjusting our book-keeping. The General, who 
had not been told of this, was even more angry than 
I was. He sent the amount and I was able to hand 
over the cash to the headman on my return journey. 
The villagers of Sliakti rendered immense help in the 
crisis of Septcmbcr-October 1962. 

Ahluwalia and I spent some-time studying the 
tactical importance of the Shakti defile, which I found 
was easily defensible and difficult to bypass. It was 
obviously a vital layback position. It was a pity that 
it was not held in 1962, as everyone was rushed to the 
border to contain the Cliinese incursion and there were 
no strategic dispositions in the rear. Since no 
important planner had seen Shakti, except Brigadier 
Palit the DMO, the lack of appreciation of the defile 
was inevitable. 

The last leg of the reconnaissance was to the Assam 
Rifles post at Ziminthaung. Tliis was the biggest and 
probably the richest village in the area. The people 
were pastoral and lived on the produce of their cattle 
wealth in addition to good farmlands. They produced 
enormous quantities of butter for the monasteries. 
Ziminthaung was their winter location, and Lumpu 
their summer headquarters from where their herds were 
taken to the high Thagla Pastures. They owned all 
the herders’ huts and maintained the so-called “log 
bridges” that we shall be hearing about soon. 

Basing ourselves at Ziminthaung we visited K.hen- 
zemane and Lumpu, over tire next three days. It 
was an exciting experience to visit a remote place 
which had achieved national importance in 1959, after 
the serious dash with the Cliinese. On the way 
I passed the famous Drokung Samba Bridge, which 
achieved prominence when the Chinese pushed our 
men back to this point claiming that the Indian 



TIIE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 131 

boundary, according to the McMahon Line, ended at 
tliis bridge. If destroyed, the water gap at the bridge 
site would become a formidable obstacle. The bridge 
was high over the water line, with steep rocky abut- 
ments. It is a pity that there were no demolition 
plans to blow up this obstacle on 20th October 1962. 
The bridge was captured intact, enabling the Chinese 
Forces to carry out an immediate, uninterrupted pursuit 
operation. Here again our anxiety to rush everything 
to the border caused us to neglect the principle of 
security. 

Khcnzcmanc was tactically useless and was merely 
a check-post. It could not be defended without 
holding the Thagla Heights. The post certainly could 
not fight to the last man and the last round. 

I studied the alignment of the McMahon Line, 
with the help of the civil official who had accompanied 
me. 

The next day I visited Lumpu where we had 
another Assam Rifles post. Lumpu had an excellent 
dropping zone with good approaches. From the high 
ground at Lumpu I had a clear view of the Cliokscn 
Ridge across the Ziminthaung Valley. Lumpu-Choksen 
was vital for the security of the Lumpu dropping zone, 
and was also not held in 1962. 

The return journey was uneventful. The main 
conclusions of my reconnaissance were that mobility to 
the Nyamjang Chu Valley was severely restricted due 
to narrow patlis, which would not take Army mules: 
weak bamboo bridges : steep gradients which hampered 
speed; troops would require full acclimatisation before 
they could be employed; and lastly limitations in 
the availability of porters as with the best intentions, 
the population could not provide more than a few 
hundreds. 

The ground factor revealed that Shakti and the 
Lumpu-Choksen line were vital to the defence of the 
only dropping zone in this sector and must be held to 



132 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


ensure the administrative security of any force despatched 
to this area. 

Within a week of my return I went on my second 
reconnaissance, to the Bumla-Towang axis. This was 
the old direct trade route to Tibet, stretching only 
14 miles from Towang to the border. Bumla was at 
a height of 14,000 feet and bitterly cold even in the 
first week of April. The area is barren and rocky, 
after the tree-line at Pankentang. On the way I studied 
the various tactical positions relevant to the inner 
defences of Towang - which was my primary task. 
I concurred with the appreciations of my predecessors 
with regard to the number of battalions required to 
defend Towang, though I made minor alterations in 
the dispositions of the battalions to ensure the security 
of this vital objective. 

The appreciation for the defence of Towang and 
the number of battalions required had been projected 
to the Chief of Army Staff, General Tbnpnr and the 
Cliicf of the General StafT, General Kaul, when they 
visited Towang in November 1961. They accepted 
the recommendations of Brigadier Ranbir Singh, but 
deferred implementation due to paucity of troops and 
shortage of air effort. It was an appalling error of 
judgement to leave only one battalion to defend Towang 
in September 1962, under an ad hoc sector commander. 
Worse still, this battalion was taken from the Order of 
Battle of 7 Brigade, leaving me with only one battalion 
for the task of containing the Chinese incursion into 
Thagla Ridge. The Towang battalion was overrun 
and Towang fell without a fight. Here again we did 
not make the vital strategic dispositions required 
before the Chinese launched their invasion, which was 
a criminal breach of military principles. 

As a result of my personal ground reconnaissance 
I took some immediate steps to get troops familiar with 
their possible operational roles, and ordered various 
readjustments. 9 Punjab who were new to the area 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 133 

had to be given a chance to familiarise themselves with 
the surrounding topography. Reconnaissance parties 
down to platoon commander level were sent. The 
inner defences were improved and re-sited where neces- 
sary. Artillery fire plans were made out and forward 
dumping of ammunition was carried out. I established 
a few more localities of regular troops around Towang. 
This was all that was possible within the limitations of 
our operational plans. However, even these limited 
precautions were nullified, for when the Thagla flap 
started all these troops were sent to another Sector and 
fresh troops inducted into Towang. 

Operation Onkar 

Apart from my reconnaissances, the month of 
April 1962 was dominated by Operation ONKAR, the 
code-name given to the establishment of additional 
forward posts on or near the McMahon Line. Dhola 
was one such post. 

I have already dealt with the major policy impli- 
cations of this so-called Forward Policy and have 
analysed the background to trace its author. Let us 
now look at the problem from the viewpoint of a local 
commander who was called upon to implement the 
policy on the ground. 

From the outset it should have been appreciated 
that a. move into the Dhola area would attract Chinese 
attention, if not a severe reaction. The area of the 
Tri-junction was extremely sensitive, as the exact 
alignment of the McMahon Line had been made the 
subject of open dispute by China. Apart from the 
incident of August 1959, which brought the Army into 
NEFA, we knew (or should have known) that Chinese 
officials in the 1960 discussions had not conceded our 
version of the Line in this particular area. I was 
naturally doubtful about activating a sensitive area, 
specially after I had seen for myself the difficulties of 
moving and maintaining a force there. The Thagla 



134 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Ridge had a tactical significance for the Chinese as it 
overlooked their forward base at Lc. Chinese counter- 
measures would place us at a grave disadvantage, both 
tactically and administratively. The Cliinese were 
known to have improved their roads while we had no 
road beyond Towang - and this too had not been 
opened for traffic in April 1962. "We were hoping to 
have our first convoy by the end of April, carrying 
supplies, in one-ton vehicles. 

When these awkward questions were raised, I was 
told categorically to “lay off” as this was a “matter of 
national policy” and was being implemented by the 
Assam Rifles. We were only required to render 
assistance in the way of officers. Our inability to 
organise a clear command and control set-up is revealed 
in the manner in which we approached Operation 
Onkar. The Assam Rifles were directly under the 
Ministry of External Affairs and had to work closely 
with the NEFA Administration, Their administration 
was not the responsibility of the Army. The Army 
had only operational control over them. For many 
purposes they were under the Inspector-General of 
the Assam Rifles, with Headquarters in Shillong. We 
were in those days proficient in creating private armies, 
with the most nebulous command arrangements and 
allocation of responsibilities. It is a fundamental 
principle of the organisation of forces that a commander 
cannot exercise operational responsibility without con- 
trolling the administrative backing. The two functions 
are inseparable. 

I W’fe tmpWrotti tiro poi-rA betaroe it is the one 
crucial factor creating doubts as to how the Dhola Post 
came into existence. We seemed to have ventured 
most casually into a potentially explosive commitment. 
Instead of working in water-tight compartments we 
should have alerted the whole Army and prepared for 
a clash. Once the decision to locate a post in a disputed 
area was taken by the Civil Authority, then the necessary 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 


135 


force should have been positioned within striking 
distance. Civil Supremacy cannot be invoked after 
40,000 Chinamen appear on the scene to challenge the 
presence of 40 ill-armed men, in an area of disagreement. 

Let us now examine the question of what is termed 
Civil Supremacy, in the context of the establishment 
of Dhola Post. Even as late as November 1967, 
Mr. Menon casts doubts on whether the so-called 
Forward Policy was responsible for the armed conflict 
of 1962. In an interview given to Mr. Inder Malhotra 
of The Statesman , Mr. Mcnon has this to say: “I know 
that some people have said that what has come to be 
known as India’s forward policy, the policy of estab- 
lishing forward posts, was at least partly responsible 
for converting the situation from one of confrontation 
to that of an armed conflict. I think this is an entirely 
wrong view. We never followed any forward policy. 
A forward policy means our trying to get into someone 
else’s territory, like Lord Curzon tried to do. There 
has been at no time an attempt by us to take anything 
. that was not our territory. Establishing posts in an 
area which belongs to us cannot be called a forward 
policy. ... It was China that was following a forward 
policy in our territory”. 

On the question of political leadership he said: 
“But whether we should defend a particular area, 
whether we should pursue a policy of this kind or that 
... or whether we should repel the Chinese invasion 
of our territories are political decisions and on political 
issues the Government must decide. ... It is the 
Government which , tells the Military Command the 
objectives that it must try to achieve, and it is the 
Military Command which decides upon operational 
matters.^ The Government can only say you must 
hold this or you can give up that”. 

THs, erudite exposition of the constitutional res- 
ponsibilities of the Civil vis-a-vis the Military still does 
not enlighten us on the selection of Dhola as the site 



136 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


for one of the posts under the Forward Policy. The 
pertinent question is who selected this particular area. 
We know that Mr. Nehru is supposed to have said that 
we should only operate in areas which we were con- 
vinced was our territory. Mr. Menon had one leg in 
the Ministry of External Affairs and the other in 
Defence. Did he order this post? Did he in fact 
know the background to the dispute ? The officials of 
the Ministry of External Affairs ran the Assam Rifles. 
Did they order Dhola? The Intelligence Bureau of 
the Home Ministry were co-opted for advice. Did 
they suggest Dhola? 

The Chief of the General Staff, General Kaul too 
must have been aware of the background to the Dhola 
area, and the possible military repercussions of treading 
on dangerous ground. Was Dhola established under 
Government orders; or was it established by the Army 
Command purely as ‘an operational matter’ ? Did the 
Government say that we must hold Dhola? 

The Chinese had raised a dispute about the exact 
alignment of the McMahon Line in the Thagla Ridge 
area. Therefore the Thagla-Dhola area was not strictly 
territory that “we should have been convinced was 
ours” as directed by the Prime Minister, Mr. Nehru, 
and someone is guilty of exceeding the limits prescribed 
by him. The unilateral definition of the border by 
individual Ministers, or sundry officials, is of no use 
unless the Cabinet authorises the use of force to sustain 
such claims. 

The next point is whether Government wished to 
make an issue of the alignment of the McMahon Line in 
the Thagla area. If so what were the actual directions 
to the Armed Forces? These are vital questions, as 
Dhola was the detonator that allegedly sparked off the 
NEFA incident and the subsequent war. This is an issue 
which cannot remain clouded in discoursive discussions 
of the relative questions of civil and military supre- 
macies or buried under a heap of verbal platitudes. 





NEFA LANDSCAPE 






A cheerful group of Monpa portert, the sole means of 
maintenance and mobility for 7 Brigade in September- 
October 1962. They were sturdy and willing but limited 
under battle conditions to a payload of 15-20 lbs, 
infinitely more than the Indian Pioneer was able to 
deliver! This was the type of logistic support with 
which 7 Brigade was expected to “evict the Chinese”, 
whilst our planners were shopping far modern means of 
mobility on “rupee payment". 




THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 137 


It is known that many generals, including General 
Umrao Singh, opposed the indiscriminate opening up 
of more posts. Who forced him to open Dhola? 
Surely India was not landed in the straits of 1962 by 
an unplanned and thoughtless drift into a disputed 
area because of an archaic map? 

The opening up of posts in undisputed areas cannot 
be questioned. The setting up of posts in disputed 
territory is a different matter. It is an act of rashness, 
whoever decreed it and with whatever authority, unless 
we had the means to settle the resultant dispute on the 
battlefield. 

Dhola was established in June 1962 by Captain 
Mahabir Prasad of 1 Sikh, who had been “loaned” for 
this task, with one platoon of Assam Rifles. After 
setting up the post it was to be left in charge of a Junior 
Commissioned Officer of the Assam Rifles. 

In view of the special significance of Dhola and 
the likely repercussions, I briefed Prasad myself in 
general and sent him to AKluwalia for detailed briefing. 
He was told what to do in the event of encountering the 
Chinese. I asked him to send me regular situation 
reports as I feared that an 'incident may develop and 
I needed the earliest possible information to render the 
help that I was required to give by the terms of my 
operational tasks. This arrangement was objected to 
by higher HQ^ and my instructions were overruled. 
I was curtly told that reports would be sent through 
the normal channels of the Assam Rifles. This was 
amazing* as I was operationally responsible for this 
sector. 

Prasad’s party was deficient of certain stores and 
these were provided by me. For this too I was criticised 
on the ground that administration was an Assam Rifles’ 
responsibility. 

Captain Prasad was de-briefed by Divisional HQ, 
on his return from Dhola. It now seems fantastic 
that I was not given the opportunity to talk to him; 



138 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


and I -was the commander responsible for doing some- 
thing if the Chinese got tough. 

Later I found out that the post was established on 
the south bank of the Namka Chu as this was the only 
place which was snow-free and for other administrative 
reasons, such as the availability of water and easier 
accessibility for re-supply parties. Dhola was tactically 
unsound and a certain death-trap in the event of a 
serious dash of arms. The obvious tactical location 
was either on Thagla Ridge itself, or further back on 
the Hathungla Pass/Tsangdhar. There was no im- 
mediate reaction to the site of the post. Since war 
with China had been, ruled out there was no call to 
get involved in the tactical trivia of setting up a post. 
Administration had been brushed aside as a minor issue 
and the troops had no alternative but to ensure their 
sumval by sitting near water and where porters could 
bring in their monthly rations. 

Sometime in July or August 1962 GOC 4 Division 
represented the unsoundness of the location of Dhola 
to his superior, but had not received a reply up to 8th 
September when the Chinese debouched across Thagla 
Ridge and threatened the post. 

The name of the person who did not give an 
answer, or failed to take a decision on this vital issue 
for over two months, will have to be made known as 
his was a major contribution to the events of September 

1962. 

Dhola was the worst possible place to get involved 
with the Chinese. Having set up the post everybody 
promptly lorgot about it tiff the Chinese gave us a 
rude awakening on the morning of 8th September 1962. 
The Chinese suddenly, and without warning, reminded 
us that those who want to settle a dispute must be 
prepared to fight; and they were prepared to fight for 
Thagla as a matter of principle. We reacted with 
anticipated bravado and declared that wc too would 
fight if necessary. 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 139 

• Was this too a political decision as averred by 
Menon? Gan a Government decision stem out of an 
earlier miscalculation on the part of some politician or 
erring official? Was such a decision forced on the 
Government by a clamorous public? 

The persons who set up Dhola without the necessary 
military might to slug it out with the Chinese are guilty 
of providing the Chinese with the excuse they wanted ; 
and of placing the Indian Army in a shameful and 
invidious position. 

Wishful Thinking 

From April onwards I represented to Division the 
lacuna in our current operational plans and gave my 
reasons. I also said that Assam Rifles posts could not 
be given timely help due to poor communications and 
difficulty of organising timely moves, over a widespread 
area. The command and control set-up between the 
Assam Rifles and the Army was defective. The roles 
of assisting the Assam Rifles and defending Towang 
were prima facie contradictory. To achieve the first 
I would have to disperse my command; to achieve the 
second I would need to concentrate the whole Brigade 
at Towang. 

There was no reaction from Division initially as 
Gen. Amrik Singh had been posted out and the new 
commander was due to arrive only in early May. The 
outgoing GOC had visited Towang, but was reluctant 
to discuss operations. He was obviously glad to be 
out of the mess with which he had had to deal for over 
two and a half years. He advised me to discuss my 
problems with the new GOC. 

The new GOC, Major-General Niranjan Prasad, 
visited me in May. I put forward my doubts and asked 
for various clarifications especially with regard to the 
assessment of the Chinese threat on winch we had based 
pur plans. We did not really have any high level 
intelligence assessment of the Chinese capability, in- 
tentions or likely actions. The task of stopping further 



140 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


incursions is too vague for purposeful planning. He 
promised to go into the matter fully and then jointly 
formulate new plans, after he had had time to acquaint 
himself with operations. 

Instead of getting any formal replies to my queries, 
I was ordered to “revise” the existing plans and issue a 
fresh operation order instead of an operation instruction, 
in spite of my representation that I could not carry 
out the existing plan. It should have been obvious 
that it is impossible to write an operation order with 
numerous imponderables such as time, enemy strength, 
direction of main thrust, warning period, staging 
arrangements, leave policy and a host of other ad- 
ministrative factors without which no precise orders 
can be issued. Instead of coming to grips with 
the real problem of defending the McMahon Line and 
Towang, in the light of the many difficulties we faced, 
we were playing a staff college game of writing paper 
plans, which were impracticable and based on fallacious 
reasoning. I doubt if any plans had been properly 
worked out at Army HQ., and accepted by Command 
and Corps. If Army HQ are not clear about the 
tasks facing the Army then lower formations cannot 
function on a realistic basis. 

We wasted more time in April and May 1962; 
planning to hold a full-scale exercise with troops, with 
the aim of “testing 7 Brigade’s operational plans”. 
Although there were no telephone communications, 
the exercise was to be held with wireless silence. I 
could not conceive of anything more foolish than this 
impractical idea. Any large-scale movement of troops 
on the border would surely attract Chinese attendon and 
wc would need clearance from Government. Political 
acceptance was essenrial as the Chinese might mis- 
understand our motives in swanning about a sensitive 
border area. 

There were other practical difficulties in that we 
did not have sufficient radons, porters, animal trans- 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 


141 


port and so on. My troops had an active operational 
role, so they would need to be relieved of their respon- 
sibility during the exercise; and yet it was laid down 
that 7 Brigade would continue to be responsible for 
the border. Eventually the exercise was cancelled but 
not before much infructuous correspondence and many 
acrimonious letters flew between Division and Brigade 
HQs and several futile reconnaissances carried out. A 
brigade cannot be tested without a minimum period 
of .three months’ collective training, the test exercise 
being the climax to a proper training season. Units 
had not even carried out individual training; nor had 
the Brigade practised the units before submitting to a 
Divisional test exercise. 

1 In those days the Indian Army had developed a 
flair for stage-managing training exercises. There 
.would have been many well-got-up files passed around. 
The' area would have been swarming with umpires, 
‘observers’ and VIPs. The main aim would have 
been buried in the spate of opening and closing addresses, 
comments from the Chief Guest and so on. A note 
would be made in the dossier of the General ‘conducting’ 
the exercise and everybody would go back happy that 
the Army was being trained and gingered up. 

Operational plans were ‘reviewed’ and ‘discussed’ 
between May and August 1962, after General Prasad 
took over and after Operation Onkar had been launched. 
Eventually an operational conference was held in 
Tezpur, to tic up final details, in July 1962. Mean- 
while matters continued to drift and we were still 
on the old plans. The monsoon set in by the first 
week of June and air-supply was reduced to a mere 
trickle, due to poor flying conditions. The ration was 
now extremely poor; the only vegetables provided were 
tinned carrots and peas. Local purchase was not 
possible (nor desirable) as there was little to spare 
in the villages. The troops were on a restricted 
diet. 'w '' 



142 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


By August 1962 some sort of plan was finalised. 
The Director of Military Operations from Army HQ, 
had visited Divisional HQ and had given the latest 
appreciation of the Government and Army HQ. He 
is reported to have confirmed that there was no question 
of a * hot war * for the next few years. In any case the 
Chinese were incapable of mounting any serious 
offensive till the railway line to Lhasa was completed, 
sometime in 1964. 

The DMO works directly under the Chief of the 
General Staff and is the Director who lays down the 
Army’s overall operational policy. Normally he would 
not make such a categorical assertion without the tacit 
approval of the CGS. The GGS, General Kaul, 
apparently did not share the views of DMO. He has 
written about a meeting he had with Mr. Chester 
Bowles (the present U.S. Ambassador to India) who 
visited India as the Special Representative of U.S. 
President Kennedy, in March 1962. 

Chester Bowles had asked Kaul how serious in 
Kaul’s opinion China was in its dispute with India. 
Kaul replied, “I had thought at first that the Chinese 
incursions into our territory had only a political signi- 
ficance and that our relations with China could perhaps 
be normalised by negotiation, but was now convinced 
by their pattern or behaviour recently, specially in 
Ladakh, that they seemed determined to establish their 
claims on some of our territory, if necessary by force”. 

In reply to a second query, Kaul claims that he 
told Bowies, “The Chinese were likely to provoke n 
clash with us in the summer or autumn of 1962 and 
tliis raised many problems for us”. 

This disclosure makes very sad reading indeed. 
There is no reason to doubt the credibility of tills 
conversation, but it condemns Kaul. If tliis was his 
belief, then why were his actions in 1962 based on the 
diametrically opposite view? 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAIION LINE 


143 


The following questions are pertinent: 

(a) Why did he allow the sensitive area of Dhola 
to be disturbed? 

(b) Why did he not back-pedal on the Forward 
Policy ? 

(c) Why did he proceed on leave in the autumn 
of 1962, if he forecast that the Chinese would 
provoke a clash at this time? 

(d) Why did he not alert the Army, particularly 
forward formation commanders, by sending 
his gloomy forecast as an Intelligence appre- 
ciation? 

(e) Why did he not even brief his own Directors, 
one of whom mouthed exactly the opposite 
view of Chinese intentions, to GOC 4 Division ? 

(/) Why did he in October 1962 lightly accept the 
Thagla commitment? 

' (g) Why did he not make strategic ' dispositions 
or locate reserves, both as CGS and as 
Commander ? 

In August 1962, 4 Division issued orders for the 
implementation of a limited policy of re-siting of regular 
troops locations, and the establishment of additional 
company localities forward of Towang. The aim was 
to locate them nearer the McMahon Line to be more 
readily at hand to assist Assam Rifles posts. There 
was no plan to counter a full-scale invasion. As there 
was no immediate threat, and for various adminis- 
trative reasons, this re-deployment was to be phased 
over two working seasons; the first phase to be completed 
by 30th November 1962, and the second during 1963. 
It now seems incredible that this was our operational 
thinking as late as August 1962, barely a fortnight 
before the Chinese incursion. At that time we were 
still indulging in the inexcusable game of guessing 
China’s intentions and capability, wliilc she was 
massing a huge army only a few miles from- our 
border. , • f 



144 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


On 8th September, both 1 Sikh (who had relieved 
1/9 Gorkhas) and 9 Punjab were in the process of 
establishing these new localities. This was fortuitous 
as detachments of 9 Punjab were in Lumpu and Shakti 
and were available for making early contact with 
Dhola Post. 


The July operational conference did discuss the 
points that I had represented earlier. My anxieties with 
regard to the manning of the Line of Communication were 
met by the promise that Division would make the 
necessary arrangements to Towang, but that I would be 
responsible forward of this place. The problems of 
stocking reserves in Towang and the question of 
acclimatisation were accepted but conveniently brushed 
under the carpet, as there was no immediate threat. 

7 Brigade continued to be responsible for the 
operational tasks of 11 Infantry Brigade, East of Sela 
Pass, as this formation was still in Nagaland. This 
role was in addition to the existing tasks of the Brigade 
and the new deployment arrangements that had been 
freshly ordered. As no additional administrative cover 
or troops could be given to me it was a mere “paper” 
responsibility. Its only use was to ensure that each 
corner of Kamcng Frontier Division was “under” 
somebody, even if he could not exercise effective 
command. It also had the advantage of covering some 
senior HQ. In those days it had become the fashion 
to allot geographical responsibilitv, on the lines of the 
police practice^ It was impossible to cam' out all the 
tasks given to / Brigade concurrently. The absence of 
1 Brigade proved disastrous. 4 Division had no 
depth and no balance. The vacuum was met by 
rushing in fresh troops who did not know the area. 

11 Brigade been in Bomdilla thev would 


have studied the 


routes and vital features and Bomdilla 


ii°houM W e beeu ’ 1 Whvwa’ r ,! ‘ WT”" 

. . -i-v; • - was this Bn trade not sivcn 

to 4 Division as soon as the , V s , 

* me c-*ninese entered our tern tor}’: 



THE DEFENCE OF THE MCMAHON LINE 


145 


Why was it later employed in Walong? The answer 
is the same. There \Vas “no danger of a hot war” and 
thus there was no need for any strategic deployment. 

The time and space factor was thoroughly thrashed 
out and the need for a warning period accepted. Un- 
fortunately, only a few days later this was forgotten 
under pressure from Delhi and Lucknow. Once the 
political clarion call was given, the slogan was “Oh to 
the Namka Chu”. The Army Commander ordered 
the move of 7 Brigade having made the rash promise 
of “concentrating a brigade in the requisite area”. 

Thus ended the process of operational planning for 
the year 1962. We were all exhorted to prepare 
our “revised” operation orders in time. We were also 
given a preview of the manner in which it was hoped 
to celebrate Sidi Barrani Day which commemorates the 
great battle victory in the desert war of 1940 in which 
4 Division achieved international fame. 

The leave programme of the senior commanders 
was discussed and I was granted leave from the first 
week of September, provided I had issued my new 
orders and had re-deployed my infantry companies. 



Chapter VIII 


The Line-up on 7th September 1962 

China Prepares for the Coup de Grace 

It would be well to summarise the relative political 
and military positions of India and China on the eve 
of battle. The anger and dismay of the Indian people 
at the poor performance of the Indian Army stemmed 
mainly from lack of knowledge of the facts about our 
so-called preparedness, and the very thorough Chinese 
war measures. 

Let us first recapitulate the long-term Chinese 
preparations in the context of the political situation 
which gradually developed from 1950 to 1962. They 
always had the politico-strategic initiative. By surrep- 
titiously usurping large portions of Indian territory, 
they placed the burden of recovery on India. Presented 
with a fait accompli India had the unenviable choice of 
fighting or acquiescing. No clear choice was made by 
those responsible for formulating the National Aim, 
and India fluctuated between the policy of outwardly 
confronting China and inwardly hoping to settle the 
differences by negotiations. National Policy, the duty 
and prerogative of the Civil Authority, cannot be based 
on dual aims. Inevitably India, in 1962, was neither 
prepared for war nor for a peaceful settlement short of 
the return oi the Aksai Chin plateau. This was China's 
first major advantage. 

The usurped territories in Ladakh were of vital 
importance to China and she would never give up her 
claims to them. Knowing this we continued to announce 
that we would recover “every inch” of our soil. Such 
remarks could not but alert China, as mature nations 
are not expected to indulge in empty boasts. Chinese 



THE LINE-UP ON 7TH SEPTEMBER 1962 147 

defence preparations in Tibet commenced as early as 
1950. Initially these may have been dictated by the 
needs of internal security, or by genuine fears of Western 
aggression. After the subjugation of Tibet, especially 
after 1959, the continued preparations were clearly 
aimed at India and yet we failed to heed all the trans- 
parent evidence of the massive Chinese build-up. 
They built strategic roads; set up a network of com- 
munications and stationed large garrisons along our 
borders. 

On the political front, China appreciated our 
patronage and professed to be our friend. This gave 
her a head start of ten years in preparing to defend her 
interests in Tibet. To silence alert domestic critics we 
pretended to carry out defence preparations to meet 
the Chinese threat and promised to evict her from all 
the annexed territories. 

When China gave unmistakable evidence and 
warnings that she had no intention of obliging us and 
withdrawing from any portion of occupied Ladakh, 
and was prepared to fight if necessary, we began a 
limited campaign of military preparations to silence a 
now more aroused and influential public opinion. We 
did not fool the Chinese. 

We sought to deal with the Chinese threat by 
opening up more posts, building trunk border roads at 
a leisurely pace and locating regular troops in in- 
adequate strength, with poor equipment and without 
the minimum administrative support. These feverish 
activities were not designed for a fight; they were 
merely a sop to an agitated public. Our ultimate hope 
was that we would be able to settle the border dispute 
by an exchange of copious, lengthy, erudite and well- 
documented notes; and finally negotiate our differences 
across . a table. It must be remembered that our 
politicians were bred on the efficacy and magic of inter- 
minable talks and on non-violence. The methods used 
to drive away the British and liquidate the Empire on 



148 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


which the sun never sets must surely succeed against 
the friendly, civilised and Asian Chinese l 

The Chinese deceived us by the pattern of their 
border activities. By not actually attacking us in 
disputed areas, and confining themselves to bloodless 
provocations, we were led to believe that they would 
not go to war over border disagreements. Khenzemane 
and Longju in 1959, and Galwan in 1962 were the most 
effective of China’s deception tactics. 

For many years China had concentrated on building 
up her armed forces, in readiness for an invasion by the 
Taiwan (Formosa) Government, backed by U.S. naval 
power. By 1962 she had a first-class land army with 
excellent modem small-arms and other conventional 
weapons. On our side, we did not deem it necessary 
to introduce modern weapons and relied on our World 
War II family of obsolete infantry and artillery pieces. 
We pleaded shortage of funds as an excuse for not 
modernising the Army. No country fearing war would 
fail to keep her armed forces in good shape, whatever 
the cost. 

From 1959 onwards China intensified her war 
preparations and plans for an invasion of India. They 
had positioned the necessary superiority of men and 
fire-power. We remained blissfully ignorant of these 
moves. ' 

China’s Deception Plans 

Let us now examine what the Chinese were doing 
on the politico-strategic plane in the first half of 1962, 
while we were formulating our ‘plans’. There was 
greatly increased activity culminating in the climax of 
September. On the political front China re-stated her 
position and determination to fight, if necessary, over 
the border issue. Mr. Chou-en Lai said, “If India sets 
up posts in the Galwan Valley, Chinese troops would 
cross the McMahon Line”. 



THE LINE-UP ON 7tH SEPTEMBER 1962 149 

In August 1962 there was a major clash in the 
Pangong Lake area in Ladakh. After this incident 
China opened thirty more posts, intensified patrolling 
and stepped up her offensive activity. China had 
already occupied 12,000 square miles of Ladakh, and 
later swallowed another 2,000 square miles. 

In July-August India offered to hold talks on the 
border issue but the Chinese refused. On our side we 
continued to ignore the Chinese build-up to suit our 
ostrich policy. We persisted in living in a world of 
self-deception. There was little else that we could do 
now that the moment for paying for our negligence had 
come. We were now in the position of the sweating 
gambler who hopes to bluff his way out of an impossible 
position. Public opinion in India had become inflamed 
at the Government which made brave statements but 
appeared to take no action when the Chinese made an 
overt move. 

The Chinese, in 1962 had prepared both for war 
and for talks, if India appreciated the futility of fighting 
for her rights. India was prepared neither for fighting 
nor for talking. Her military preparations were 
pathetic. Although the Border Roads Organisation 
was set up in 1960 there were still no usable roads. 
There was no urgency in anything connected with the 
possibility of war. We persisted in the hopes of a 
peaceful settlement of our disputes. We had developed 
a network of useless border posts, of a few ill-armed 
men. These were mere cannon-fodder in the event of 
a Chinese attack, especially when China had both 
political and strategical initiative. She could choose 
the time and place for the opening rounds of a war 
she may have decided upon. 

The opening salvo of the 1962 war was fired at 
the peaceful town of neutral and friendly Geneva, in 
Switzerland. There was a story circulating in Delhi 
when I returned from China in May 1963. It may 
be apocryphal but could be true. The story ran as 



150 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


follows : Air. Khrushchev, the Russian Premier, got the 
Chinese Foreign Minister, Marshal . Chen Yi and 
Mr. Krishna Menon to meet and discuss the Sino- 
Indian border dispute. Both were present in Geneva 
at the time in connection 'with the meeting called by 
the Geneva Conference on Laos. He is alleged to have 
harangued them about the stupidity of their . con- 
frontation and its serious consequences to the inter- 
national socialist movement. He is further supposed 
to have said that the only beneficiaries of this foolish 
and wasteful military effort would be the Imperialist 
Powers. He finally demanded to know what were the 
ultimate intentions of the Chinese and Indian Govern- 
ments. 

Marshal Chen Yi is believed to have given an 
assurance that China wanted a peaceful settlement of 
the border dispute and said that whatever happened 
China would never resort to war to settle this issue. 
This assurance was duly conveyed to Mr. Nehru by 
Mr. Menon and happily coincided with and confirmed 
his inner disbelief in the likelihood of war. We deduced 
anew that we could safely indulge in border brink- 
manship without attracting full military retaliation 
from the huge Chinese Army stationed in Tibet. This 
was a golden opportunity for those who wanted to use 
the border dispute for their own political ends. 

The next salvo in the Chinese deception plans was 
beautifully timed and placed. They selected the 
disputed Galwan Valley to create the next incident. 
Galwan is in Ladakh and was the perfect decoy to 
make their point without alerting "NEFA. On 10th 
July 1962, some 300 Chinese troops surrounded our 
Galwan post of about 40 Gorkhas. We ordered the 
post to hold fast, and despite Chinese threats of inter- 
ference, re-supplied the men but did not attempt to 
reinforce them. The Chinese tried every trick short of 
a direct assault, to intimidate, cajole and isolate the 
post. They made a special effort to suborn the Gorkhas 


THE LINE-UP ON 7TH SEPTEMBER 1962 


151 


by broadcasting that Indians and Nepalis were not 
friends and that Gorkhas should not fight as mercenaries 
for India. The Chinese advanced to within a few yards 
of our men in the hope that they would capitulate. 

The Galwan garrison, under a brave Junior 
Commissioned Officer, held out. He was decorated 
and much was made of the bravery and steadfastness 
of the 1 /8 Gorkhas detachment. It is true that our men 
behaved gallantly and fearlessly, and they deserved all 
the praise heaped on them; but unfortunately Govern- 
ment and the General Staff drew the wrong lessons* 

The Galwan incident was the most explosive 
provocation to date. The Chinese showed restraint 
when they had us cornered; and their failure to physi- 
cally assault the heavily outnumbered post, seemed to 
confirm Marshal Chen Yi’s assurance. It was the 
perfect ruse. Our External Affairs Ministry duly 
“warned” the Chinese, since that was about all we 
could do. The Chinese did not lift the siege. The 
post was overrun in October 1962. 

Galwan was undoubtedly part of the overall 
Chinese deception plan. It is not clear as to when 
they had taken the decision to humiliate us militarily; 
perhaps it was after the Dalai Lama’s asylum in 1959. 
From that time they embarked on a well-thought-out 
plan to lull us into believing that whatever turn the 
border dispute took, it would never escalate into a 
shooting war. They had acted reasonably after the 
Khenzemane and Longju incidents in August 1959. 
These incidents were followed by the visit of the Chinese 
Premier to Delhi in April 1960. He gave the impression 
of being reasonable and made reassuring statements. 
The officials* talks also helped to calm frayed tempers 
generated by the clashes. After every border incident 
the Chinese would talk of concessions and the necessity 
for moderation and the avoidance of armed clashes. 
Sometimes they withdrew after a show of, force, and 
permitted our post to be re-established. 



152 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


This pattern of behaviour gave birth to the perni- 
cious theory that all we had to do was to stand fast 
whenever surrounded or threatened by the Chinese; 
this theory was the major reason for the headlong dash 
to the Thagla Ridge, the subsequent bravado and the 
tactics attempted by Gen. Kaul to “sit” behind the 
Chinese. 

The Chinese battle preparations were both thorough 
and impressive. From my own observations before 
the Thagla Battle and my findings subsequently as a 
prisoner of war, I was able to gather the following 
facts: 

(a) The Chin ese preparations began in earnest 
from May 1962. Prior to this they had in- 
filtrated agents and had organised informers 
from among the Tibetan road gangs working 
in NEFA. They knew all our movements 
and dispositions. 

(b) They moved a famous General of Korea fame, 
to command the Chinese Forces in Tibet. 

(c) Interpreters in all major Indian languages and 
dialects were moved to Lhasa between March 
and May. They were acclimatised and trained 
in Indian customs, attitudes and characteristics 
of the various classes recruited in the Indian 
Army. Some were clearly Indian-born China- 
men who had been taken to China for use 
against us. I met some of them, but they 
were reluctant to admit that they had even 
been to India. The Intelligence set-up was 
under an ex-military attache in Delhi. 

(d) They moved scores of photographers and 
movie-cameramen to Tibet. I saw’ many in 
the Namka Chu Valley before 20th October 
and again after I was captured. 

(e) They employed hundreds of sturdy Tibetan 
ponies for carrying supplies and ammunition. 
I myself passed at least 1,500 on my way back 



THE UXE-UP ON ?TH SEPTEMBER 1952 153 

to the Chinese roadhead at Manuring. I was 
told that the Chinese had started their breeding 
farms as early as 1952, as they did not want to 
antagonise the Tibetans who had always 
smarted at the feudal system which required 
them to provide ponies and their own services 
to their landlords, each year. 

(f) They had recruited thousands of Tibetan 
porters, both men and women. They had 
been organised into proper labour battalions. 
Later, in the village where I was imprisoned 
I saw many wearing odd items of Indian 
Army uniform and equipment. 

( g ) They had established forward dumps at Lc, 
Marmang and Tsona Dzong. These dumps 
were not guarded as the Chinese had immunity 
from both ground and air attack. They had 
an assured system of carriage and delivery. 
The Chinese Commander was master or his 
own administration and could base his plans 
on realities and actuals. In the mountains, 
administration is the critical principle of war. 
Dependence on an uncertain source of supply 
and vague assurances is disastrous. 

(A) The Chinese dumps were well stocked as 
September-November are the most advan- 
tageous months to the Chinese. The Tibetan 
plateau is dry during the monsoon months of 
May to August and the passes from China 
are snow-free. The Chinese thus had the 
whole of summer for intensive stock-piting 
and the concentration of troops. 

(i) They had organised prisoner-of-war camps to 
hold 3,000 men. In these they had positioned 
blue-padded suits, bedding and essential 
clothing. The General Staff is responsible 
for forecasting the number of prisoners likely 
to be captured, as they arc in the best position 



154 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


to know the scope of battle envisaged. The 
size of the camps is a clear indication that they 
were anticipating a big war. 

(J) They had built a 7-ton road to Marmang, 
which was only a few hours from Thagla 
Ridge. They had moved at least two divisions 
and 150 artillery pieces to the Thagla area 
and opposite Towang. 

(k) They had thoroughly indoctrinated their 
troops on their version of the border dispute. 
They knew what they were fighting for and 
the issues for which they had been sent to the 
border. They were made to believe that India 
was bent on nibbling at Chinese territory and 
had to be stopped. Everyone that I met 
parroted the same arguments. 

(/) They had perfect communications and had 
laid telephone lines right up to the border. 
They were adept at laying line and were 
usually through on the phone within hours 
of capturing a position. 

(m) They had a unified command and clear 
military and political objectives. 

These eye-witness observations should silence all 
the critics of India who have said that it was India that 
started the Sinp-Indian War of 1962. The seemingly 
minor points which I have enumerated give a more 
forceful indication of the thoroughness of the Chinese 
preparations and their intentions. The war was not 
an accident and* was certainly not decided after 8th 
September 1962. It was coldly and calculatingly 
planned by the Chinese. It is ludicrous to suggest that 
India attacked, forcing the Chinese to launch ‘'self- 
defence counter-attacks”. When we go through the 
Indian state of readiness as on 7th September, it will 
be evident that 'no such possibility was envisaged, let 
alone planned for; . 



InrHa T Jr rp’- ep zred far War — 

7 th S e pi gr aber 1952 

In contrast 'with the thoroughness ol the Chinese 
prenamnons. India was completely vmpreyvovd in 
ever 'xvny far LostHitrss. In fact, there was an mr of 
nareaEty and complacency' that would have damned 
any Government. The possibility' of a Chinese attach 
having been ignored, we did not have an organised 
war plan- 
t's have already laboured the point about India's 
defective National and Strategic Aims, The center* 
stone of our planning was that there would be no wav 
udth China in Mr. Nehru's lifetime. Wc were prepared 
only for Gal wan type border incidents and to counter 
limited Chinese incursions. The broad strategy* was 
that troops would be ordered to stand last, despite being 
invested, and supplies and reinforcements would be 
sent Thereafter brave words would be mouthed by 
everyone. The Cliincsc would be warned to desist 
from further aggressive activities; protest notes would 
be exchanged; and the Indian Cabinet could settle 
down to sorting out the next crisis on its agenda, 

^Ve had no allies, as our non-aligned policy did 
not permit us to get involved militarily*. Our known 
weaknesses and lack of allies tempted the Chinese to 
teach us a lesson without inviting retaliation. 

There were no strategic dispositions. Neither 
XXXIII Corps nor Eastern Command had any reserve 
formations to deploy in an emergency. The nearest 
troops were in the west, in the Punjab. This was a 
grave error on the part of the General Staff. Presumably 
because we did not expect to fight and capture any 
prisoners, there were no interpreters in Chinese any- 
where in Assam. 

It is well to remember sonic startling facts about 
the absence of most of the key persons responsible for 
conducting operations against the Chinese, This fact 



156 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


has not received the attention it merits. Mr. Nehru 
was attending the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ 
Conference in London when the Chinese first intruded 
into the Thagla area. He did not deem it necessary to 
return and take charge of the situation as the head of 
the Defence Committee of the Cabinet. Presumably he 
was not advised correctly by our Intelligence, who did 
not appear to have any idea of the nature and scope of 
the Chinese threat. It has been said that Mr. Menon, 
who was dealing with the situation and taking far- 
reaching decisions from the outset, minimised the 
seriousness of the developments and did not think it 
worthwhile to advise the Prime Minister to cut short 
his foreign tour. With his known conceit, and possibly 
having faith in Marshal Chen Yi’s assurance, he probably 
thought that he could handle the Chinese incursion 
on his own and add another martial achievement to 
his Goa success. Mr. Nehru’s absence was a grave 
handicap in the sphere of the Higher Direction of War. 
Mr. Nehru proceeded to Lagos, Nigeria, from London 
and returned home only on 2nd October. By then the 
decision to evict the Chinese had already been taken, 
and there was little that he could do to reverse the 
trend of events, as public opinion had been allowed to 
get out of hand. After taking the unfortunate decision 
to appoint Kaul to command a non-existent task force, 
Nehru gaily left for Colombo, Ceylon, on 12th October, 
returning on the 15th. This second trip at the height 
of the crisis proves that he was not unduly perturbed 
over the border situation. In fact before emplaning he 
grandiloquently informed the Press that he had ordered 
the Army to evict the Chinese intruders. In retrospect 
it seems to have been an amazing dereliction of duty 
on the part of the executive head of Government, his 
advisers and the Intelligence set-up. Mr. Nehru’s 
claim that he was stabbed in the back by the Chinese, 
or that he was surprised by events cannot be sustained 
by history. He chose to absent himself from the helm 



THE LINE-UP ON 7TH SEPTEMBER 1962 157 

of affairs, where he should have been from the very 
beginning. The nation did not take kindly to his 
international peregrinations at a time when he should 
have been leading the country. 

Mr. Krishna Menon was partly preoccupied with 
his forthcoming visit to the U.N. for the annual General 
Assembly Meeting, in mid-September. For years he 
had been the de facto Deputy Foreign Minister. He 
appeared to be anxious. to dispose of this petty, irritating 
border situation and move to the larger international 
arena, which he loved so dearly. It has been said that 
he deliberately underplayed the whole Thagla Affair 
to avoid being asked to stay back in Delhi in the 
absence of the Prime Minister. 

Mr. Morarji Desai, the Finance Minister, had 
accompanied the Prime Minister to the London Con- 
ference. He subsequently left for Washington to attend 
a World Bank meeting. 

Let the Nation be told how the Defence Committee 
of the Cabinet functioned in the absence of the three 
key members of this body. How was Civil Supremacy 
exercised? Was the all-embracing authority of this 
Committee delegated to the Ministry of Defence? 

The Army was equally guilty in the matter of 
absence from duty at a critical juncture. The Chief 
of the General Staff, General Kaul, was holidaying in 
Srinagar and did not return till 2nd October. The 
CGS is in charge of Intelligence. What was he doing 
on leave ? Obviously he did not anticipate war despite 
his recent claim that he forecast a Chinese clash in the 
autumn of 1962. Chiefs of the General Staff do not 
normally take leave when war is impending. Even so, 
why did he not return to duty as soon as the Thagla 
incident started and his prediction was proved right? 
He should at least have been recalled when Government 
decided to stop further incursions and to evict the 
Chinese. Such a decision was taken as early as mid- 
September. All responsible officers are expected to be at 



158 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


their posts when serious operations are envisaged. 
Obviously Army HQ, did not anticipate a major war. 

HQ 4 Infantry Division was busy with the annual 
celebration of the famous Battle of Sidi Barrani. Since 
they had been told that there was no threat of war till 
the railway line to Lhasa was completed, preparations 
were in full swing for this great day. All units had 
sent their athletes and teams for the various tourna- 
ments. Large numbers of officers and men were on 
leave. There was an air of peace and calm and 
prospects of a quiet, normal winter where the main 
enemies would be the cold and boredom. 

As Commander 7 Infantry Brigade, and the senior- 
most officer in direct command of Kameng, I was on 
leave on the fateful day of 8th September when the 
Chinese first intruded into our territory at Thagla. 
Fortunately I was still in Tezpur and had not left for 
my leave station. Now leave for brigadiers in command 
is strictly controlled by HQ Commands, and is per- 
sonally approved by the Army Commander. There is 
a very sound reason for this arrangement, as HQ 
Commands arc in the best position to know when a 
senior commander can be spared without detriment to 
operational commitments. The sanctioning of my leave, 
at this particular period, is the clearest possible proof that 
Command did not anticipate war in September 1962. 
The stipulated state of readiness is laid down by Army 
HQs General Staff Branch; Command was therefore 
not correctly advised or warned. This is mysterious as 
the CGS, Kaul,, claims that he anticipated a clash. 

Lt.-Col. Manohar Singh, the GSO I of 4 Division, 
and the senior staff officer was sent on the Senior 
Officers’ Course at the Infantry School, Mhow. The 
nominations for this particular course are made directly 
by Army HQ subject to representations on operational 
grounds. The fact that Manohar was made available 
implies that Division had not been placed in a state 
of operational readiness. 4 Division did not expect a 



THE LINE-UP ON 7TH SEPTEMBER 1962 159 

war. He was later recalled, after the Thagla Affair 
had got out of hand. 

From the foregoing, it is evident that our deploy- 
ment along the northern borders, since 1960, was 
designed to stake our claims- and not to fight a major 
campaign against a first-class enemy, at short notice. 
The numerous limitations and shortcomings were well 
known, and accepted at all levels. Had they been 
remembered, as they should have been, the Nation 
might not have been committed to the resolute and 
irrevocable decision to drive out the Chinese, inviting 
retaliation all along the Sino-Indian border, to which 
we had no military response. If the odds had been 
calculated, then senior Cabinet members would surely 
have been at their posts. 

With the advantage of hind-sight, Mr. Menon is 
reported to have said in 1967, that “Yet the time had 
come when there was nothing else to do but fight. A 
war which is avoidable at one stage becomes unavoidable 
at another stage”. He adds, “The war with China 
became unavoidable as we could not refrain from 
defending ourselves. In undertaking defensive opera- 
tions a country can never consider the odds. If we arc 
attacked we have to defend ourselves, even if we arc 
defeated”. The time had been coming for many 
years, and yet risks were taken in not organising and 
administering our forward troops, on the untenable 
assumption that the Chinese would not take military 
counter-measures, whatever our own publicised actions 
may be. This theory was strongly propounded and 
lulled everyone into a false sense of security. 

The overall situation was ripe for a military 
disaster. In classic conformation to military principles, 
the Chinese High Command selected the remote and 
disputed Thagla Ridge area to provide the casus belli for 
a war on which they were bent, and for which they had 
made perfect preparations. As the aggressor, China 
liad the added advantages of choosing the time and 



160 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


place for their feint. They were able to acliicvc 
maximum surprise and concentration of forces. They 
knew that fatal Indian weakness of wide dispersion 
along the entire border, in small detachments. 
Knowing the Indian penchant for hasty, ill-advised 
and rash reactions to border incidents, they selected 
a place away from our main defences thereby further 
stretching our Line of Communication and denuding 
the defences of Towang. A disputed area also gave 
them the opportunity to stall for time by pretending 
to want talks, and to restrict our military response 
to the low key of a border dispute. (That is why 
there were no strategic arrangements in the rear of 
Thagla.) 

We fell for the trap; and without a pause for clear 
thinking, despatched the nearest available troops to 
“forestall the Chinese at Thagla”. We accepted a 
possible war in an area for which we had made no 
preparations. It is criminal to fight ad-hoc batdes. 
Man-pack columns, without heavy weapons and ammu- 
nition, were rushed to confront the Chinese with pouch 
ammunition. Imagine trying to fight the largest and 
one of the most powerful land forces in the world, 
with only pouch ammunition. - Disaster was inevitable 
and should have surprised no one who had been dealing 
with the China problem from the beginning. The most 
deplorable part was the subsequent attempt to shift 
the blame to the Army. Individual politicians are 
expendable, but a country’s Army is a permanent 
institution. The good name of the Army and its 
■tested formations are xrifrnite'ry more important than 
the political reputation of any individual, whatever his 
temporary stature and importance. 

In one fateful month our Government tried to 
make up for its tardiness and wrong policies by 
embarking on a last desperate gamble which did not 
come off. Then to save the slans of those who had 
been forced to redeem their boastful pledges of fighting 



THE LINE-UP ON 7TH SEPTEMBER 1962 161 

the Chinese, it became fashionable to blame pressure 
of political events and public opinion. As we shall see, 
the Thagla Affair was given undue prominence and 
importance even before the first commander reached 
the spot to assess the situation. Public opinion was 
allowed to get out of hand instead of being moulded 
to face harsh military realities. Even if wc concede 
Menon’s claim that war had become inevitable by 
September 1962, was it necessary to fight on the worse 
possible terms? Was it necessary to ignore all the 
principles of war? Is the word fight synonymous with 
suicide ? 

Instead of gracefully accepting responsibility for 
erroneous policies, the guilty men sought alibis and 
scapegoats. In any developed democracy the Govern- 
ment would have been replaced; instead of being allowed 
to continue in office and sit in judgement on their 
subordinates. 

The moral of all this is that never again must the 
fate and destiny of India be placed in the hands of 
any one or two men. We must also learn that a 
democracy has no room for proven failures. This is 
not a matter of sentiment. Mr. Chamberlain was 
removed after Hitler invaded France in May 1940 with 
Cromwell’s classic plea, “For God’s sake, go”. 
Mr. Anthony Eden was forced out of office after the 
disastrous Suez adventure of 1956. History records 
•many instances where heads of elected Governments 
had the courage to resign, or who were forced to 
resign by public indignation and angry legislators. 

Wc shall now follow the tragic events from 8th 
September to 20th October 1962. The basically faulty 
National Policy was rendered even more disastrous 
by faultv decisions, taken on a day-to-day basis. 
Wc moved inexorably and inevitably to a major 
military defeat; and there was no one with insight or 
force of character to stem the tide; or save its from the 
plunge into certain disaster. 



Part III 

“On To The Namka Chu” 



Chapter IX 


China Crosses McMahon Line — 

8th September 1962 

On 8th September 1962, I was at Tezpur en route 
to my leave station. GOC 4 Division and I spent the 
morning with 1/9 Gorkhas who were at Misamari 
ready to entrain for Yoi, in the Punjab, after completing 
three gruelling years in NEFA. 

General Niranjan Prasad addressed the assembled 
battalion, and thanked them for their excellent 
pioneering work in opening up and guarding Towang. 
He praised them for their devotion to duty, hardiness 
and cheerfulness despite the difficulties and hardships 
which they had had to encounter and surmount. 
Finally he wished them a happy and pleasant tenure 
in their new peace location, and hoped that they would 
be able to celebrate Dussehra (the great Gorkha 
festival due in early October), with their usual gusto 
and spirit. This was the first time in three years 
that the battalion would be re-united with their 
families. 

The Gorkhas wqre understandably tired and over- 
due a spell in congenial surroundings. 

'When \ hfit line baTuffiun after a smrrptauus ’ranch, 
I scarcely imagined that I would be seeing them again 
shortly under war conditions. Instead of proceeding 
to _Yol_ they were rushed to the Thagla Ridge area. 
Brigadier D. K. Palit was then the Director of Military 
Operations, and the Colonel of the 9 Gorkhas. Palit 
had promised the Battalion that they would not be 
used in any operations, and that they would definitely 
spend Dussehra in Yol. He even promised to visit 
them and join in the festivities! Imagine their chagrin 



166 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


and dismay when they were ordered to return to 
Kameng. This decision did not endear the top brass 
to the simple Gorkha soldier. 

• In the afternoon I was invited by the GOC to 
play a round of golf at the newly laid course at Tczpur. 
After the game I went to my quarters at the Machine- 
Gun Unit, which was located near the airfield. As 
my plane was leaving at dawn I planned to tum-in 
after dinner and had declined the General’s kind 
invitation to attend a cinema show at the local 
Planters* Club. 

At exactly 6-30 p.m. the telephone rang while 
I was still in my bath. At first I was tempted to leave 
it alone. I was sick of telephone calls. Some extra- 
sensory intuition told me that I had better answer it 
as it was probably an emergency message. Very few 
people knew where I was staying and only someone 
who wanted me desperately would persist in contacting 
me. I was officially on leave from midday. 

My Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master 
General (DAA &. QMG or D/Q), Major Bertie Pereira, 
spoke to me from Towang on Radio-Telephony and 
passed me this ominous message: 

“The Post Commander at Dhola has been sending 
frantic messages that about 600 Chinese soldiers 
crossed Thagla Ridge at 8 a.m. and had come 
down to Dhola Post. They had cut one of the 
log bridges on the supply route to the post, and 
they were threatening their water supply. The 
Post Commander wanted immediate help*'. 

The message had been received only at 2-30 p.m. 
when the Assam Rifles Wing set at Lumpu had opened 
up under the informal arrangement we had made with 
them, and that is why the information had taken six 
hours to reach my HQ. I could get no further in- 
formation from Pereira. I was particularly anxious to 
know if the Chinese had left or not. 



CHINA CROSSES MCMAHON LINE 


167 


I ordered Pereira to alert tire Assam Rifles Wing 
at Lumla and the Assam Rifles Post at Lumpu, the 
nearest detachments to the scene of the Chinese incursion 
and two days’ march away. I promised to return to 
Towang the next day. So, our Forward Policy was 
beginning to extract its price. Our day-dreams 
were coming to an end. A force of 600 intruders 
was not one that could be easily dealt with by 
the troops in Kamcng Frontier Division, under my 
command. 

I hastened to Division and tried to contact the 
GSO II, officiating for the GSO I who was away 
on a course. I also had a messenger sent to the 
Thakurbari Planters* Club to call the GOG. The 
Club is some 35 miles away and the GOC eventually 
arrived at about 9 p.m. The GSO II, who had the 
keys to the secret almirah and who held the secret maps 
in his own custody, could not be readily located. He 
was eventually tracked down and arrived at 8-45 p.m. 
The Air Force Liaison Officer, who was also required, 
was finally run down, somewhat the worse for wear. 
After all it was a Saturday night and we had inherited 
and nourished the Saturday night and week-end 
tradition bequeathed to us bv our erstwhile British 
masters. The Anglo-Saxon and his followers are best 
tackled on a week-end. The Japanese attacked Pearl 
Harbour on a Sunday morning, when the Americans 
were either recovering from the excesses of “Saturday 
night” or piously worsliipping God in church ! Who 
was left to man the guns against the approaching 
Japanese Armada? 

I have no doubt that the Chinese selected Saturday 
to ignite the Thagla incident as they correctly reasoned 
that by the time information reached Delhi it would 
be late evening or early Sunday morning. It would 
take that long for the message to percolate down 
the line of peace stations and commanders to contact 
each other for orders. The Chinese must have known 



168 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


by 1962 that no Indian. Commander had any initiative 
to act without consulting Government. This was the 
natural corollary to the lack of clear long-term orders 
and plans. Each border incident was handled according 
to the prevailing political pressures; and our response 
was tailored to these pressures. 

At this stage it would be useful to consider the 
ponderous and cumbersome command set-up of the 
various HQs responsible for dealing with border 
incidents in NEFA, as this has a vital bearing not only 
on the conduct of operations but also on the mental 
attitude of the officers who control these operations. 
My Brigade HQ, was at Towang, some five days’ march 
from the scene of intrusion at Thagla Ridge. Towang 
is a field posting and a hardship station. Division 
was at Tezpur, 200 miles away. Although Tezpur is 
considered to be a field area, life is more or less normal, 
with planters' clubs, golf-courses and cinemas. Corps 
HQ was at Shillong, another 200 miles away. Shillong 
is a salubrious hill-station and a “peace posting”. ' It is 
difficult to maintain a war-like atmosphere in this 
peaceful and picturesque town in the Khasi Hills. 
Command HQ was at Lucknow some 600 miles 
from Shillong. It is even more difficult to develop 
an operational outlook so far from the Sino-Indian 
border. 

The last tier is the holy of holies at Delhi where we 
have Army HQ and “Government”. Delhi is the most 
peaceful of the world’s capitals and so far removed 
from military realities that political factors perforce 
dominate the formulation of national strategy. Over 
the years Army HQ had become a remote centre more 
concerned with politics, overall finance and adminis- 
tration than operations. ,, , 

’ The peace stations of Shillong, Lucknow and Delhi 
give India’s enemy a head start ‘in war, 1 These HQs 
were manned by officers who had earned the right of a 
“peace tenure”. They -worked standard office hours 



CHINA CROSSES MCMAHON LINE 


169 


and lived normal family lives. ’ After serving in hardship 
areas they were entitled to their rest, recreation and 
hobbies. Some were posted on medical grounds and 
others for compassionate reasons. A few would have 
requested postings to these places to ‘rehabilitate’ 
themselves prior to retirement. It is unreasonable to 
expect such HQs to “raise a gallop”, particularly as 
border incidents with China and Pakistan had become 
a recurring commonplace, and an occupational hazard 
of the Indian Army. This was the inevitable outcome 
of placing a Regular Army on a semi-permanent war 
footing. Wars cannot be run efficiently by peace-time 
HQs. The direction of war is the business of HQs 
located, organised and, manned for instant response. 
Staff officers have to be selected purely on .merit and 
must be trained for operational appointments. 
Operational HQs must be freed from the distractions of 
life in major cities and family life. 

To revert to the Thagla incident. The GOC held 
a conference on arrival, to decide on the immediate 
course of action. , He informed the Brigadier General 
Staff (BGS) at XXXIII Corps HQ and asked 
for instructions. BGS instructed the GOC to be 
“prepared to relieve Dhola Post and ensure that its 
maintenance is not jeopardised. The Post must 
hold out at all costs, and not succumb to Chinese 
threats”. ,, 

After some discussion, GOG gave the following 
preliminary orders : 

(a) The Dhola Post Commander will be ordered 
to stay his ground and informed that a link-up 
party would be sent as soon as feasible. There 
was to be no -withdrawal or shifting of the 
Post. The Assam Rifles Wing will be ordered 
to establish contact with, and send a re-supply 
column to Dhola to the beleaguered detach- 
ment. >A Line of Communication to Dhola 
will be kept open. 



170 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


(£) 9 Punjab detachments at Shakti and Lumpu 
will be warned to move to Dhola to open a 
Line of Communication. The remainder of 
the battalion, at Towang, will be prepared 
to move to Lumpu, to be within easy reach 
of Dhola. 

(r) I was to cancel my leave and return to Towang 
the next day and prepare an appreciation of 
the militarx implications of moving to and 
operating in the Thagla area. The GOC 
promised to visit me to formulate concrete 
proposals for discussion with the Corps 
Commander. 

(</) Leave parties were not to be recalled, but 
personnel in Misamari awaiting rail trans- 
portation were to be detained pending further 
orders. 

At this conference I reiterated some well-known 
facts and requested the GOC to bring them to the 
notice of the Corps Commander, Lt.-Gen. Umrao 
Singh. The first was that any move forward of Towang 
would involve the abandonment of the defences of this 
“vital ground”. I should, therefore, be given a clear 
alternative task and relieved of my responsibility East 
of Sela Pass. 

The Thagla incursion should not be treated as a 
petty border incident. I reminded the GOC that we 
had all along been apprehensive of establishing a post 
in an area which the Chinese do not concede to be ours. 
The GOC liad himself represented to Corps HQ,, the 
tactical unsoundness of this post. We should eater for 
a sharp and massive Chinese reaction. I told the 
GOC that the Chinese had the advantage of time and 
space and logistic support, while we suffered from grave 
administrative handicaps. (1 , 

That night, lying in bed, I had a premonition of 
disaster. I cursed myself for accepting the Military 
Secretary’s offer to command 7 Brigade. The military 



CHINA CROSSES MCMAHON LINE 


171 


problems in Kameng were formidable, and would not 
be appreciated by those who did not know the area. 
A quarter-inch map of NEFA in Delhi docs not convey 
the enormous logistic difficulties. We were short of 
everything. 

I had attended many meetings in Delhi where 
“decisions” about border incidents had been taken. 
I knew that once political necessity is established the 
Army has no further say in the matter. We had got 
away ■with this in minor clashes with Pakistan. If 
someone should decide that the Chinese must be stopped 
“once and for all”, then 7 Brigade would have no 
option but to make a headlong dash to Thagla, what- 
ever the tactical or strategic disadvantages. The 
Thagla incident might be used to test Chinese intentions 
and designs. I cannot explain the reason for these 
thoughts; perhaps it was my training and experience in 
Operations Directorate. Anyway, I clearly remember 
telling my Brigade Major (BM), Major (now Brigadier) 
Rex Kliarbanda, of these forebodings. 

I left Tezpur the next morning (9th September) at 
5-30 a.m. by helicopter. The BM met me at the helipad. 
I told him what had transpired at the GOC’s conference 
and outlined the form of the “staff paper” that wc had 
to make. I was very fortunate in that I had an excellent 
staff in Major Kliarbanda and Major Pereira. They 
were competent and dedicated men. The Intelligence 
Officer, Captain (now Major) T. K. Gupta, was an 
extremely capable young man. 

I immediately conferred with my Commanding 
Officers (COs), Lt.-Col. B. N. Mehta of the Sikhs ancl 
Lt.-Col. R. N. Misra. Misra had assumed command 
of 9 Punjab in June when Lt.-Col. Master, left to 
teach at the Infantry School. .Misra had only just 
returned from the Thagla area, after carrying out 
an extensive reconnaissance and had visited Dhola. 
This was fortunate as wc had the benefit of his first- 
hand knowledge of the ground, routes, timings and the 



172 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


going and most of the factors and deductions were based 
on his advice. 

The salient points of the paper were as follows: 

Ground Factor 

(a) The main route to Thagla Ridge area was 
along the Nyamjang Chu Valley to Lumpu; 
thence to Hathungla Pass (13,400) and the 
Namlca Chu River. The total distance was 
about 60 miles and required 4 or 5 forced 
marches. In the present weather conditions 
of rain and slush, 5 marches would be a more 
prudent planning figure. 

(&) There was an alternative but more difficult 
route from Lumpu via Karpola I Pass (16,500) 
which had the advantage of being secure 
from Chinese interference. 

Vital and Important Ground 

(a) Tsangdhar and Hathungla were vital features 
and had to be held. Dhola itself was in a 
narrow valley and completely indefensible. 
At most, we could plant the Indian* Tri- 
colour there and stake our claims. We 
should not waste any further effort on this 
flag-post. 

(£) Lumpu-Choksen was a suitable defensive line 
and should be held to secure Lumpu which 
was the only suitable dropping zone for the 
maintenance of the troops in the Namka Chu. 

{c) ShaktL was. a ivty defile, and must not be. Vast. 

State of Routes 

(a) The route from Towang to Thagla was fit 
only for man-pack columns. Civil porters 
were likely to be in short supply as the 
harvesting season was in full swing. The 
Political Officer whom I had consulted felt 
that he would not be justified in disrupting the 



CHINA CROSSES MCMAHON LINE 


173 


normal life of the local population, unless he 
received special instructions from the NEFA 
Administration. (In fact, porters in the 
required numbers were not made available 
till after 24th September, when Chinese and 
Indian troops had already started exchanging 
fire, and the decision to evict the Chinese had 
been taken at Delhi.) 

Relative Strengths! Relative Build-up 

(a) Reports of the Chinese strength in Dhola 
varied between 60 and 1,200. The senior 
Indian military official at Dhola was a Junior 
Commissioned Officer (JCO) and he 'was not 
a reliable source, as he was liable to exaggerate 
the situation to get help. In any case, it 
would be prudent to assume that the Chinese 
had at least a battalion in the Thagla area 
and possibly the rest of the regiment (brigade) 
somewhere between Thagla and their base at 
Marmang. (Good armies operate in recog- 
nised units and formations.) 

ib) 7 Brigade had only two battalions and a 
battery of mountain guns. The guns and 
artillery' mules could not be moved forward 
of Towang and therefore the Brigade would 
have to confront the Chinese without artillery 
support. Each battalion had 350/400 bayonets, 
i.c. the total strength of only one full battalion. 
The Engineer clement consisted of about half 
a field company, with no earth-moving plant, 
explosives or bridging equipment. Only 
elements of 7 Brigade were in Towang and 
the Brigade could not be committed until it 
was fully concentrated and its order of battle 
completed. 

(r) The primary task of 7 Brigade was the defence 
of Towang, which had been declared vital 
ground. Its fall would have serious reper- 



174 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


cussions. Any diversion of troops to Thagla 
would leave Towang at the mercy of the 
Chinese. There were no plans to cater for a 
major confrontation forward of Towang. The 
• diversion of 7 Brigade, from its primary role 
and its despatch to the Namka Chu would 
create complete imbalance. It should be 
understood that such a task would be an 
ad hoc one, on ground and time of Chinese 
choosing and under crippling administrative 
handicaps. (For many years the role of the 
Army has been orientated towards defence 
and this had eventually gnawed at its offensive 
spirit and developed a defence neurosis.) It 
is not a simple matter to suddenly order 
offensive action without the necessary training 
and mental conditioning. 

(d) The additional role East of Sela Pass would 
have to be given to some other formation. 
(This was to suggest the recall of 1 1 Brigade 
from Nagaland.) 

(e) In the absence of a three-ton road, from the 
Foothills to Towang, it would take some 
10 to 12 days to concentrate fresh troops, 
leave parties and others who were left in the 
plains. It would take another 4 to 5 days to 
move them to Thagla. Troops would arrive 
tired and should not be expected to operate 
without a rest, and the minimum period of 
acclimatisation. The road from Foothills to 
Towang had suffered the ravages of a full 



CHINA CROSSES MCMAHON LINE 


175 


* The relative build-up capabilities was a 
critical factor.' “Anything we could do they 
could do better”. 

(g) The Chinese could deploy heavier weapons 
than us due to their better communications. 
Unless we air-dropped heavy weapons we 
would be out-gunned in a serious fire-fight. 

Administration 

{«) Before troops were committed to battle, it 
would be necessary to drop, collect and ferry 
forward snow-clothing, ammunition of all 
types, rations (including a reasonable reserve), 
wireless equipment which was dangerously 
short; defence stores to secure firm bases 
which are vital in the mountains. (Detailed 
tonnages were worked out and included as 
appendices.) 

(b) Lumpu was the only dropping zone which 
was suitable and which had been tested and 
approved by the Air Force. It must be 
commissioned at once. 

(r) Porterage was a serious bottleneck. Details 
of the number required for the concentration 
and subsequent maintenance were worked out. 
The employment of army pioneers, in large 
numbers, would require additional tonnages 
to feed and clothe them. The law of diminish- 
ing returns would operate in their case. 

{d) There were no stocks in Towang to issue to 
units moving to Thagla due to the cessation 
of drops during tlie monsoons i.e. from June. 
General Staff reserves of rations had been 
consumed, under appropriate authority. It 
was necessary . for air-drops to continue k in 
Towang to feed the local garrison as well as 
the transients passing through. We would 
also need drops at Lumla (m route to Thagla) 



174 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


cussions. Any diversion of troops to Thagla 
would leave Towang at the mercy of the 
Chinese. There were no plans to cater for a 
major confrontation forward of Towang. The 
» diversion of 7 Brigade, from its primary role 
and its despatch to the Namka Chu would 
create complete imbalance. It should be 
understood that such a task would be an 
ad hoc one, on ground and time of Chinese 
choosing and under crippling administrative 
handicaps. (For many years the role of the 
Army has been orientated towards defence 
and this had eventually gnawed at its offensive 
spirit and developed a defence neurosis.) It 
is not a simple matter to suddenly order 
offensive action without the necessary training 
and mental conditioning. 

(i d ) The additional role East of Sela Pass would 
have to be given to some other formation. 
(This was to suggest the recall of 11 Brigade 
from Nagaland.) 

(e) In the absence of a three-ton Toad, from the 
Foothills to Towang, it would take some 
10 to 12 days to concentrate fresh troops, 
leave parties and others who were left in the 
plains. It would take another 4 to 5 days to 
move them to Thagla. Troops would arrive 
tired and should not be expected to operate 
without a rest, and the minimum period of 
acclimatisation. The road from Foothills to 
Towang had suffered the ravages of a full 
Himalayan monsoon, and would require ex- 
tensive repairs. 

(/) Time and space favoured the Chinese as they 
had a roadhead only a few miles (and a few 
hours) from Thagla, while our onc-ton head 
was at Towang. They had the advantage of 
a full summer’s stocking and stock-piling. 



CHINA CROSSES MCMAHON LINE 175 

The relative build-up capabilities was a 
critical factor. “Anything we could do they 
could do better”. 

(^) The Chinese could deploy heavier weapons 
than us due to their better communications. 
Unless we air-dropped heavy weapons we 
would be out-gunned in a serious fire-fight. 

Administration 

(a) Before troops were committed to battle, it 
would be necessary to drop, collect and ferry 
forward snow-clothing, ammunition of all 
types, rations (including a reasonable reserve), 
wireless equipment which was dangerously 
short; defence stores to secure firm bases 
which are vital in the mountains. (Detailed 
tonnages were worked out and included as 
appendices.) 

(b) Lumpu was the only dropping zone which 
was suitable and which had been tested and 
approved by the Air Force. It must be 
commissioned at once. 

(c) Porterage was a serious bottleneck. Details 
of the number required for the concentration 
and subsequent maintenance were worked out. 
The employment of army pioneers, in large 
numbers, would require additional tonnages 
to feed and clothe them. The law of diminish- 
ing returns would operate in their case. 

(d) There were no stocks in Towang to issue to 
units moving to Thagla due to the cessation 
of drops during the monsoons i.e. from June. 
General Staff reserves of rations had been 
consumed, under appropriate authority. It 
was necessary • for air-drops to continue 4 in 
Towang to feed the local garrison as well as 
the transients passing through. We would 
also need drops at Lumla ( en route to Thagla) 



176 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


to save the carry from Towang to Lumla. 
(Later this was agreed to, and proved a boon.) 

( e ) There were no trooping arrangements or 
dumps anywhere between Misamari and 
Thagla - a distance of over 220 miles. Division 
must assume responsibility for the induction 
of stores and men. 

Weather Conditions 

(<i) Weather was the third critical factor both for 
the concentration of troops and for any battle 
in the immediate future. Due to incessant 
rains movement was slow and back-breaking. 
The going was extremely difficult with slippery 
paths and steep gradients. 

{b) There were no shelters en route and troops 
would have to bivouac in the open. Coupled 
with the lack of suitable warm clothing and 
waterproofs, this would prove a health hazard. 
Health is vital in the mountains where re- 
sistance to chills and other pulmonary ailments 
is essential to avoid depletion of the fighting 
strength of units. It is neither easy to move 
reinforcements nor to evacuate casualties. A 
minimum number of tents would have to be 
carried forward or dropped if the Brigade was 
not to be rendered ineffective through illness. 

Surprise * 

It would be difficult to achieve surprise, one of 
the most important principles of war. We should not 
operate after the fashion of policemen who rush to 
the scene of occurrence without fear of detection or 
armed retaliation. 

I have recounted the points of the first military 
appraisal in some detail because while the Indian people 
maintain a large standing Army they are perhaps unique 
in the world in that few of them have any understanding 
or experience of war. Wc arc apt to panic or indulge in 



CHINA CROSSES MCMAHON LINE 


177 


extreme emotionalism in a crisis. It is only by under- 
standing the ramifications of war that we can resist 
hustling Government and the Army to undertake rash 
military ventures. However indignant we may be, we 
just cannot stop the rains or bulldoze mountain passes 
from our path. We cannot wish our enemies away. 
We cannot create dumps with a conjuror’s flourish. 
Military operations are cool, calculated and deliberate 
actions. Haste is the enemy of military planning. 
These statements which are cliches in Europe and 
America where most adults have rendered national 
service, had to be learnt the hard way by us. 

* * * 

On this day 9 Punjab sent a detachment from 
Lumpu to Dhola, via Hathungla Pass, to ascertain the 
locations and strengths of the Chinese intruders; to 
link up with the Post and keep the Line of Communi- 
cation open. I also sent an Assam Rifles party over 
the Karpola I Pass route to contact Dhola. 

The remainder of 9 Punjab were placed on 4 hours’ 
notice to be prepared to move to Lumpu to establish a 
firm base and man the dropping zone. I allotted them 
100 pioneers and closed down all work on the con- 
struction of shelters. To hell with audit objections! 
By the afternoon 9 Punjab confirmed that they had 
prepared their loads; had shanghaied every available 
local porter, and were ready to leave as soon as 
ordered. 

* * * 

Gen. Prasad arrived by helicopter early the next 
day (10th September), and immediately plunged into a 
discussion of my appreciation. He also met my COs and 
the new Assistant Political Officer, Mr. V. V. Mongia, 
who had replaced Mr. Shaiza. 

The General agreed^ with my appreciation and 
requirements. Later, this appreciation formed the 
basis for the letter which General Umrao Singh, the 
Corps Commander, wrote to HQ, Eastern Command 



178 • HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 

in which he stated that there were serious handicaps in 
mounting hasty operations against the Chinese in the 
Dhola area. 

The GOC then briefed us on the latest situation 
and gave the following information /orders: 

(а) HQ, Eastern Command had ordered “7 In- 
fantry Brigade to make preparations to move 
forward, within 48 hours, and deal with the 
Chinese investing Dhola”. 

(б) XXXIII Corps had asked permission to use 
1/9 Gorkhas who had not yet left for Yol. 
2 Rajputs were being sent to 7 Brigade 
immediately. 

(c) Towang would not be denuded. 1 Sikh would 
remain deployed on the Bumla Axis (guarding 
the direct northern approach) and be respon- 
sible for the defence of this vital approach. 

(d) 9 Punjab would move immediately to Lumpu. 
(In those days, there was no speed less than 
“immediate” and “as soon as possible” in the 
Indian Army. This sort of vague order, 
compounded of hope, pressure and unreadi- 
ness, saves the officer issuing it the bother of 
making a small movement appreciation to 
ascertain what time will be required to move 
from one place to another. This pernicious 
habit must be eradicated with the utmost 
vigour.) 

(e) The Punjabi company and the Assam Riflee 
relief columns must move faster and make 
contact as “quickly as possible”. (The re- 
quired degree of acceleration was, of course, 
not specified.) 

( f ) Air-drops would be arranged wherever we 
wanted. I was somewhat sceptical about this 
promise. We relied entirely on air supply in 
uncertain weather conditions, and on indif- 
ferent dropping zones. There was a known 



CHINA CROSSES MCMAHON LINE 


179 


shortage of carrying agencies, including heli- 
copters, to supplement the air effort, or for 
the final carry from dropping zones to forward 
troops. As a commander I was naturally 
apprehensive about conducting operations with 
an erratic and haphazard supply system, 
particularly when the main agency (the Air 
Force) was not answerable for the failure of 
operations. The Air Force cannot control the 
weather, procure additional aircraft, train 
pilots or manufacture supply-dropping equip- 
ment in a matter of a few days. In the 
absence of a joint commander the best we could 
hope for was a promise from the Air Force 
that they would do their best to drop what 
we 
quir 
theii 
it”. 

(g) Leave parties held up in Misamari would be 
ordered to rejoin their units at once. Personnel 
actually on leave would not be recalled. 

{h) On a query from Lt.-Col. Misra, it was laid 
down that the following action would be taken 
in the event of encountering the Chinese: 

(i) Persuade them to leave Indian territory 
' and go back. 

(ii) If the Chinese do not comply with our 
request and withdraw voluntarily, then 
troops will take up positions and dig-in 
opposite the intruders to prevent further 
incursions. 

(tit) Fire was permitted only in self-defence; 
and minimum force would be used. 

The. Thagla Ridge Operation thus started with a 
very limited and modest aim. Such were the humble 
beginnings to the most disastrous military setback to 
Free India. 


where and “as quickly as re- 
they failed for reasons beyond 
control, the Army would have “had 


required, 
ed”. If 



180 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


These orders revealed the naked truth that Army 
HQ, had no strategic plans to deal with a major Chinese 
riposte to the establishment of forward posts, even in 
disputed areas like Dhola. The importance of long- 
range strategic forward planning cannot be disputed or 
brushed aside by blaming politicians. In Italy, in 
1943/44 Field-Marshal Kcsselring, the German C.-in-C. 
was faced with the problem of countering Allied landings 
along the extensive Italian coastline - a problem which 
is broadly analogous to countering border incursions, in 
that the enemy has the initiative to select the time and 
place for the landings or incursions. Marshal Kcsselring 
had a defensive procedure for such a contingency. 
Mr. Majdalany in Ids book Cassino - Portrait of a Battle 
spells out the Marshal's arrangements. “Realising the 
futility of attempting to defend ever}' beach on Italy’s 
long coastline where the Allies might attempt a landing, 
the German High Command had issued a comprehensive 
emergency plan to cover the zvhole country. In it was laid 
down what troops should move against the possible 
landing points, as soon as the landing had occurred, 
on what roads and at what time they should move, and 
what tasks they should undertake. It was only necessary 
to issue a code-word to put these pre-arranged plans 
into operation". We had no pre-arranged plans. 

When the other officers left the meeting I had a 
private talk with the GOC on the command and control 
arrangements, the location of my HQ, and my own 
movements. In mountain operations this is a calculated 
arrangement, as once a commander leaves his HQ he 
may be on the move for long periods. Time in the 
mountains is reckoned in day’s and not hours, and a 
commander can neither retrace his steps nor be recalled 
easily'. A brigade HQ is not designed to be split for 
'more than a few hours as there are only two staff 
officers and they must meet the commander daily. As 
all movement is on foot, the location of HQs assumes 
critical importance if continuous effective command is 
to be exercised. In the early stages of an operation 



CHINA CROSSES MCMAHON LINE 


181 


and before commanders at various levels have agreed 
upon a joint plan, the need for constant contact is self- 
evident. 

Now commanders are appointed to command and 
not to man a fire-pump to extinguish a blaze. They 
are required “to perform the functions of Commanders 
not Corporals”. I emphasise all these elementary facts 
because the Indian Army had got into the questionable 
habit of rushing senior officers to the “front” on every 
occasion. I knew from experience in Delhi, that 
everyone would start screaming “Where’s the Brigade 
Commander!” I pointed out to the GOC that my 
command now consisted of only one battalion, 9 Punjab, 
which would be on the move for the next three days 
and would most probably be out of wireless touch most 
of the time, as the Brigade had only 62 sets with a 
range of about 22 miles (with wire aerials). If I was 
on the move as well, I would not only be out of touch 
with my battalion but also with my HQ, and with 
Division at Tezpur. I asked the GOC if he would 
want me to meet him again after his Tezpur Conference 
with the Corps Commander on 12th September. I 
made it clear that I was not prepared to accept any 
criticism on the score that I did not charge to the scene 
of the incident with the leading company. 

The GOC instructed me to remain at my HQ, in 
Towang until the Punjabis reached Lumpu. He 
promised to send a helicopter to take me to Lumpu 
, as soon as the Punjabis arrived there. 

The rest of the day was spent in receiving further 
frantic and conflicting messages from Dhola Post. We 
were also trying to establish contact with the two 
relieving columns to ascertain their progress. The 
9 Punjab patrol lost its way across Hathungla Pass, as 
it had moved without guides and porters. 

That night I had a long chat with GOG. I could 
talk to him freely as I had served under Gen. Niranjan 
Prasad in 1949, when he was commanding the 5th Royal 



182 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Gorkha Rifles Regimental Centre and I was his second- 
in-command. We had become family friends and had 
maintained this friendship over the years. He was a 
fine gentleman and I was proud to claim him as a friend. 
I had implicit faith in his personal and professional 
integrity. My only doubt was whether as a disciplined 
soldier, he would raise enough moral courage to oppose 
plans which were impracticable and which could only 
commit us to an impossible situation. 

I requested him to emphasise at the meeting of 12th 
September that the maximum force which could be 
deployed in the Namka Chu was one battalion; and 
the only role that this battalion could fulfil was to 
give heart to the Dhola Post Garrison and prevent 
further petty incursions into our territory. There was 
no question of conducting any formal operations of 
war against a large Chinese Force in the prevailing 
circumstances. I warned him that he would be 
subjected to political pressures relayed by the Army 
Command and coerced to undertake impossible tasks. 
I hoped he would resist improper orders. I myself 
would be too close to events, while he, in Tezpur, could 
view the military problems more objectively. He 
would not have to face the accusation of being a coward 
if he counselled caution or restraint. I could not afford 
to appear hesitant or over-cautious. 

I raised these issues because my apprehensions 
had been aroused by the impracticable and unreason- 
able Eastern Command order “to concentrate 7 Infantry i 
Brigade in the Thagla area”. What was the order of 
battle of 7 Brigade? Did Eastern Command know the 
size and composition of the Towang Garrison? Had they 
worked out how a brigade was supposed to move and 
subsequently be maintained in the Dhola Area? 
Would the Army now try to cover up past omissions 
in preparing for a clash with the Chinese by flogging 
the troops and sacrificing their lives ? Could Command 
HQ, not wait for the considered views of the Brigade 



CHINA CROSSES MCMAHON LINE 


183 


Commander, the Divisional Commander and the Corps 
Commander before ordering a brigade to the scene of 
the Chinese incursion? 

Some adverse factors which demanded considera- 
tion had obviously been overlooked and these were to 
prove disastrous later. The minimum warning period 
was not being adhered to. Failure to allow for the time 
factor misled planners at all levels above Division, 
resulting in the scrambling of troops into operations. 
7 Brigade lacked tactical mobility; and was not armed, 
equipped, organised, clothed or stocked for a battle 
with a superior Chinese Force. It was prepared to 
defend Towang (however inadequately), where the 
ground was more suitable; was of our own choosing; 
was undisputed and where reconnaissances and dumping 
had taken place. The reckless ignoring of these factors 
was a major reason for the order to concentrate at the 
Namka Ghu. To cover up our shortcomings, we 
coined the slogan of “moving on hard scales and 
pouch ammunition”. This was patently not going 
to be enough against the Chinese, although it may 
have worked against Naga hotheads and Pathan 
tribesmen in Kashmir. 

The order of battle of 7 Brigade was disturbed from 
the very inception. Of its normal grouping only 
9 Punjab was retained. 1 Sikh was allotted to the 
“Towang Sector”. The third battalion (4 Grenadiers) 
had not yet arrived from Delhi. (They did not join 
me till 12th October). The Corps Commander was 
trying to “find” some battalions to make up a “brigade”. 

The order to concentrate 7 Brigade at Thagla was 
the first of the many slogans that were issued during 
the September-October 1962 operations. According to 
accepted military teaching, formal orders should contain 
an Information paragraph; an Intention; a Method 
paragraph; Administrative arrangements and the Inter- 
communications set-up. An Intention by itself is a 
mere slogan. 



Chapter X 


The Trap Is Baited 

The NEFA War was played in three acts. Everything 
that I have narrated so far was the Prelude: Thagla 
Ridge was the Climax: everything that happened after 
Thagla, viz. Towang, Sela Pass and Bomdilla was the 
Anticlimax. The Thagla incursion was gradually 
allowed to become the battle for the survival of those 
responsible for India’s China Policy including the 
Generals who had associated themselves with the tepid 
military response to the Chinese threat. 

The story that I shall recount is the story of the 
curtain-raiser to the NEFA Campaign. To under- 
stand the Thagla Battle, which opened the short war, 
I have given the political and strategic background 
that produced it. The failure was essentially due to 
the tactical and administrative factors which proved 
insurmountable. The most dominating factor was the 
topography of the mighty Himalayan Ranges. 

The most famous dictum in military history is 
von Clausewitz’s “War is the continuation of State 
policy by other means”. The Thagla Battle and the 
NEFA Campaign were not the continuation of the 
Indian State Policy by other means. It became an 
act of self-immolation brought on by political expediency 
in the Face of uninformed public pressure; credulity 
in Chinese good behaviour and gross negligence in 
assessing and preparing for a military showdown. 

The Thagla confrontation which began on 8th 
September and ended in the massive Chinese attack 
on 20th October can itself be divided into four phases. 
The first phase, from 8th September to 20th September, 
was the advance to contact, ending in the exchange of 
fire between regular battalions of India and China. 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


185 


The second phase lasted from 20th September to 
3rd October 1962, during which time a scratch force 
was hurriedly marshalled at Lumpu, some 15 miles from 
Thagla; Government and the Army High Command 
were insisting on the eviction of the Chinese intruders 
regardless of the consequences; and the fonvard com- 
manders were trying to give military shape to the 
ordained tasks. This phase ended in a military dead- 
lock, as there was no prospect of evicting the Chinese 
in the prevailing disparities between the two forces 
but Government would not bow to the harsh realities. 

The third phase, from 3rd October to 10th October, 
marked the replacement of Lt.-Gen. Umrao Singh, 
XXXIII Corps Commander; the appointment of 
Lt.-Gen. B. M. Kaul to command, with the task of 
“speeding up operations”; and the move of 7 Brigade 
to the Namka Chu, culminating in the major skirmish 
of 10th October at Tseng Jong. 

The fourth and final phase, from 10th to 20th 
October, witnessed 7 Brigade helplessly tethered to the 
Namka Chu Valley, until it was destroyed on the 
morning of the 20th. 

* * * 

On 11th September I was constantly prodded to 
give the “exact” location of the Assam Rifles and Punjab 
patrols which were moving post-haste to Dhola. My 
staff maintained a Tound-the-clock vigil by the wireless 
set but could not establish contact. There were cynical 
and sarcastic remarks about the standard of 7 Brigade’s 
wireless proficiency, as if the Brigade signallers could 
redress the inadequacies of our antiquated equipment. 
(For years the Army had been waiting for Bharat 
Electronics to produce better sets indigenously. We 
spent many years drawing up qualitative requirements 
more to suit the capability of this Public Sector enter- 
prise than to meet the Army’s requirements in the 
mountains.) Everyone wanted to know why the 
columns had not yet relieved Dhola. On the current 



186 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


j-inch maps the distance appeared to be only six miles. 
All these nasty observations were from officers in the 
rear areas, who knew neither the terrain nor the 
timings involved. They could devise no better technique 
of command than by the issue of ceaseless exhortations 
to “hurry up”. This is facetiously known as the 
“giddyap” system. In sheer disgust I had to point 
out that in the mountains troops could either keep* 
moving or waste time halting and setting up special 
aerials to report progress. I recommended working .on 
the old British Army slogan “No news is good news”. 

* * * 

9 Punjab set off from Towang for Lumpu. I asked 
the CO to establish temporary, ad hoc transit camps 
at Lumla and Shakti. I milked everyone of pots and 
pans, tents and wireless sets, and allotted him some 
pioneers to collect air-drops at Lumla and Lumpu. 

More frantic messages continued to be received 
from Dhola Post but there was nothing to be done till 
the relief parties reached the invested garrison. 

GOC 4 Division left Towang on 1 2th September 
to meet the Army and Corps Commander. 

* * * 

I did not know at the time what was happening 
at Lucknow (Command HQ,) or at Delhi. It is now 
known that on 11th September there was a meeting 
in the Defence Minister’s office, attended by Lt.Gen. 
Sen. Sen is quoted as. saying that there were some 
600 Chinese in the vicinity of Dhola and that he would 
require a brigade to deal with them. He added that 
he had ordered “the brigade” on this mission and that 
it would take 10 days to concentrate. 

In retrospect, I cannot understand the basis for 
General Sen’s authoritative assessment of the Chinese 
strength, or his categorical guarantee of concentrating 
“a brigade” to deal with the Chinese, within 10 days. 
If he did make the statements attributed to him, he 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


187 


did so entirely on his own and without any assurance 
from the Corps, Divisional or Brigade Commanders. 
I had given no such undertaking, as indeed I was in 
no position to do so. I did not have a brigade to con- 
centrate, nor did I have any idea of what my order of 
battle was to be. I did not control the administrative 
machine required to support operations. 

Gen. Sen’s statements, if true, arc serious enough 
to warrant the closest study and could have been the 
fountain-head of many subsequent miscalculations - 
military and political. Who gave the firm figure of 
there being only 600 Chinese in the vicinity of the 
Dhola area? The area north of Dhola was dead 
ground and we did not know the strength of the Chinese 
Force. We could only do so if Government permitted 
tactical reconnaissance by aircraft, which was forbidden. 
Did he base his estimate on the latest message received 
from the Dhola Post Commander? The Commander 
was a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), and Army 
Commanders and Governments do not normally commit 
themselves irrevocably on the basis of such flimsy and 
uncorroborated information. Were the Intelligence 
Bureau and the Joint Intelligence Committee consulted? 
If so, what was their interpretation of the Chinese 
incursion? Did Gen. Sen have a guarantee that the 
Chinese would not, or could not, reinforce their troops 
in the Thagla area? Did he know that the Chinese 
ability to build up was infinitely greater than ours? 
Why was the Defence Committee of the Cabinet not 
summoned? Were the Chiefs of Staff consulted and 
alerted? Sovereign nations do not decide to “deal” 
with other sovereign nations in such a haphazard 
manner. 

I have known Gen. Sen for some years and I can 
hardly believe that he would essay such a forthright 
opinion and commit himself and his country. He would 
surely have waited for a senior and responsible officer, 
of at least Lt.-Col. rank, to reach Dhola and send back 



188 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


a proper appreciation of the situation with all its military 
ramifications and repercussions. Decisions cannot be 
taken in Delhi by an ad hoc body, without a study of 
the military factors which shape national decisions. 
The meeting of 11th September could have been the 
source of many misplaced hopes and unfortunate 
postures. 

What could Gen. Sen have meant by “the 
brigade”? The only Brigade within hundreds of miles 
was mine and it had only one battalion and no sup- 
porting arms. Gould a decision on the threat and 
the quantum of troops required to deal with it not be 
postponed for a day or so till the Army Commander 
conferred with his subordinates? Had Sen waited he 
would have had a fuller picture of the immense problem 
of mounting operations in the Namka Ghu Valley area, 
even against 600 Chinese soldiers. Having committed 
himself he later found the Corps Commander’s “diffi- 
culties” unpalatable. War is not a mere question of 
disposing so many men against so many. Further, 
if he, as the Army Commander, had made a personal 
reconnaissance of this sensitive area in his command, he 
would have been better able to assess the situation. 

* * * 

In the meantime 9 Punjab completed their con- 
centration at Lumpu with remarkable speed, in heavy 
monsoon weather and over high altitudes. 

The Assam Rifles, under Officer Commanding 
Lumla Wing, established contact with Dhola Post as 
ordered. This Wing was under my operational 
command and the task given to them was a proper 
and legitimate one, as they were the closest to the 
Namka Chu, they knew the area and had the best 
organised porter and guide system. Considerable 
bitterness and recrimination arose from the fact that 
the Assam Rifles were the first to make contact and 
not regular troops. The Inspector General of the Assam 
Rifles (IGAR) was reported to have set up his "tactical 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


189 


HQ)' in or near Tezpur and was demanding direct 
reports from Lumpu. He appeared to be conducting 
his own private war. It is now possible to smile at the 
comedy that was being enacted then. When the 
Assam Rifles were being criticised for their slowness in 
reaching Dhola they were under 7 Brigade. Once they 
reached, they reverted to the Inspector General. The 
operation almost started with a confused and abrasive 
command and control set-up but fortunately was quickly 
put right when IGAR was told to keep off. In the 
abyss of recrimination and misunderstanding, the com- 
mendable effort of the Punjabis was forgotten. I 
exchanged some harsh words with my GOG on this 
issue. He later took up the matter "with the Corps 
Commander to vindicate the professional honour of 
this fine Battalion. 

* * * 

On 13th September I went to the helipad at 
5 . 30 a.m., to fly to Lumpu in the helicopter which the 
GOG had provided. The chopper came, with the 
Commander Artillery of 4 Division, Brigadier (now 
Major-General) Kalyan Singh. Unfortunately it de- 
veloped propeller trouble and the pilot refused to risk 
a flight with a VIP, to an untested helipad. I was 
flattered to be classified as a VIP but disappointed that 
I would not be able to meet Lt.-Col Misra. The pilot 
promised to come back the next day with a better 
chopper. I rang up Divisional HQ, and informed them 
of the mishap and the postponement of my flight. 

I was surprised to see Kalyan. He told me that 
he had been sent to command “Towang Sector”, as 
there was no task for the Commander Artillery in the 
forthcoming operations. He had also been made 
responsible for the administrative arrangements to, and 
forward ^ of, Towang. Thus did someone higher up 
cover liimself and pass on the responsibility for “de- 
fending” the Divisional vital ground. Now it could 
be claimed that Commander Artillery 4 Infantry 



190 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Division was “in charge of Towang”. No one told 
him what he was in charge of; against what and with 
what. 

Kalyan informed me that the Divisional Machine- 
Gun Battalion Commander had been placed in charge 
of the Line of Communication from the Foothills to 
Towang. I mention these points to highlight the fact 
that 4 Division never fought as a Division and thus did 
not sully its international fame. It had only two 
brigades stretched over 300 miles, the third, earmarked 
for Bomdilla and Sela Pass, was in Nagaland. The 
Division had no depth, no reserves and was unbalanced. 
It was never able to deploy its fire -power or adminis- 
trative cover. The troops in NEFA could more 
appropriately have been named “Border Guards”. 
Tins is the moment at which a resume of 4 Indian 
Division’s war record would be in order. I am in- 
debted to Mr. F. Majdalany for this appreciation in 
his book, Cassino - Portrait of a Battle. 

“The 4th (Indian) Division reached Egypt shortly 
before the outbreak of the war and at once began 
intensive training in desert warfare. In 1940 it carried 
out, with the 7th (British) Armoured Division, that 
defeat of the Italian Armies which is a classic of the 
rout of the many by a few. The following year it 
brought off the notable victory in Keren, in Eritrea. 
In 1942 and 1943 it played an important part in the 
final Desert Victory. Since then it had been resting 
and retraining in Africa”. 

In February 1944, 4 Division was moved from the 
Adriatic Front of Italy, to the Cassino front. “At that 
time”, says Majdalany, “it was considered to be one 
of the finest and greatest fighting divisions of the War. 
It was able to claim a long record of success dating back 
to the earliest days of the War. In Italy, they brought 
an almost arrogant conviction of invincibility bom of 
their great victories in the Western desert. An aura 
of glamour invested this Division”. 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


191 


It will always be a pity that the title of this great 
formation was given to the scattered troops, deployed 
on policing duty. The matchless, professional excellence 
of this formation was greatly admired by the Germans 
-no mean professionals themselves. It is said that 
General Von Arnim, Commander of the German Forces 
in Tunis in 1943, insisted on surrendering to the 4th. 
His caravan is today used by the GOG of 4 Division. 
No wonder the Chinese were aghast at the poor “per- 
formance 55 of this famous formation. It is ironic that 
the fame of this formation is more widely known and 
respected by foreigners than by the Indian people. 
Perhaps this is the price of segregating the Army from 
the public, except for the annual pat on the back during 
the debate on defence appropriations. 

Mr. Ghavan, while he was the Defence Minister, 
removed the slur on the prowess of 4 Division during 
his statement on the findings of the NEFA Enquiry, 
on 2nd September 1963. He told the Lok Sabha, 
“Before I end, I would like to add a word about the 
famous ‘Fourth Division 5 , which took part in these 
operations. It is indeed sad that this famous division 
had to sacrifice its good name in these series of reverses. 
It is still sadder that this division during the actual 
operations was only ‘Fourth Division 5 in name, for it 
was not fighting with its original formations intact. 
Troops from different formations had to be rushed to 
the borders to fight under the banner of ‘Fourth Division 5 
while the original formations of the division themselves 
were deployed elsewhere”. 

. Perhaps the most ironic fact of all is that 4th 
Division had been commanded by Generals Thapar, 
Sen and Kaul - the three Generals who led the Division 
to “these series of reverses 55 , 

* * * 

The most astonishing arrangement was that I was 
to leave my staff in Towang to work under the Sector 
Commander to assist Kalyan in the arrangements for 



192 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


trooping. I was required to fight the Chinese single- 
handed and without the benefit of a staff. This was 
an unforgivable breach of military organisation and 
working procedures. These ad-hoc measures stemmed 
from our penchant for devising snap solutions to events 
that we never seem able to foresee. If we do anticipate 
them we get bogged down in a morass of financial 
considerations and other extraneous issues. At the last 
minute we created a sector at Towang, with a Com- 
mander Artillery in charge and gave him the staff of a 
Brigade Commander who was soon to be given the 
task of evicting the Chinese! 

* * * 

Gen. Umrao and Gen. Prasad conferred with the 
Army Commander at Tezpur on 12th September. 
Gen. Sen relayed Government’s decision to expel the 
Chinese from our territory. This was the second slogan 
issued in three days. 

Gen. Umrao Singh who had studied my appre- 
ciation and had heard the views of the Divisional 
Commander, confirmed our joint conclusions. He now 
informed Gen. Sen that the task of clearing the Chinese 
was beyond the capability of his troops in Kameng 
Frontier. Division. Umrao said that, “Our ability to 
reinforce due to lack of troops and roads was limited. 
Our troops were on restricted scales of rations and had 
no reserves. Clothing was scanty for the extreme cold. 
We were short of ammunition and there were hardly 
any defence stores available. We did not have ade- 
quate fire support”. Gen. Umrao then warned Eastern 
Command “that an attempt on our part to clear the 
Chinese south of Thagla Ridge would amount to an 
act of rashness. To produce even a semblance of the 
resources required for this purpose, he would have to 
completely uncover Towang and also withdraw troops 
from Nagaland. He pointed out that Towang was our 
vital ground and its fall into Chinese hands would have 
more disastrous consequences than the fall of Dhola”. 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


193 


These were sound, valid and cogent military reasons 
which presented a realistic appraisal of the military situa- 
tion and which enjoined prudence on the Government. 

Umrao’s representation to Sen amply testifies to 
the fact that he, Prasad and I had no illusions about 
the odds against engaging the Chinese at Dhola, as 
early as 12th September. 

Gen. Umrao confirmed his views in a formal letter 
to HQ, Eastern Command. This letter is a vital 
document for future historians as it will reveal that the 
advice of those in direct touch "with local events and 
conditions was turned down. It will turn the spot- 
light on the person or persons who ignored the military 
problems and got 7 Brigade embroiled without the 
semblance of a chance to put up a worthwhile resistance. 
* ■ * * 

At about 5.30 on the evening of the 13th, 
I was briefing Brigadier Kalyan on the problems of 
defending Towang, when GOC 4 Division called me 
up on the wireless. Without any preamble he com- 
menced to give me a sharp dressing down, and demanded 
to know why I had not gone “forward’ \ I was at a 
loss to comprehend this stricture as he knew about 
the helicopter mishap, and had also agreed that I should 
not be on the move at the same time as the CO of 
9 Punjab, to maintain uninterrupted command and 
control. The General then peremptorily ordered me 
to move “at once” without waiting for my explanation. 
His behaviour was so strange and out of character, that 
I suspected he was being- goaded by someone. He 
seldom raised his voice and never at me. This was 
Kalyan’s opinion too. Later Gen. Prasad told me that 
the Army Commander was pressing him to order me 
“forward”. When the GOC ordered me to leave at 
once, I decided that someone had taken leave of his 
senses, so I pretended that I could not hear him and 
could not foOow his orders due to heavy atmospherics.' 
I asked the operator to tell the GOG to call me again 



194 HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 

when reception conditions improved. He did so after 
a few hours and asked me to leave the next day, on foot, 
and promised to explain the reasons later. 

GOG ordered me, at the same time, to move 
9 Punjab to the Namka Chu “forthwith”, without 
halting at Lumpu. This had apparently been decreed 
by the Army Commander. I was astonished at this 
change of plans, specially as no fresh aim or task was given. 
This was the third slogan in three days. These two 
orders were most calamitous and set the pace for many 
subsequent unreasonable orders, improper haste and 
disregard for military principles. The unfortunate result 
was that the tactical and administrative problems were 
never thereafter fully weighed. Indian and Chinese 
regular forces came in contact, with the advantage in 
the Chinaman’s favour. I do not know what the 
Delhi planners had in mind. Perhaps they may have 
hoped that the appearance of the Punjabis would cause 
the same consternation that is achieved by the police 
when raiding a gambling den or a bordello! 

It will be recalled that the nature and scope of 
operations had not been decided, the relief of Dhola 
being the only immediate object. I was expecting 
another visit from the GOC, after his talks with the 
Army and Corps Commanders. I would serve no 
purpose by being on the march during the next three 
critical days; whereas I could fly to Lumpu in 20 
minutes. What were the Punjabis to do in the Namka 
Chu, and who would give them orders in case they got 
involved with the Chinese? Contact with the Chinese 
■was, vTOswayinA.. WbaSs. oa the. mwt, \ twdd wesAhsx 
send nor receive secret messages as high-grade ciphers 
are not carried by small parties for obvious reasons. 

It was imperative to establish running and secure 
administrative arrangements before venturing into the 
Namka Chu Valley with a whole battalion. We can 
perceive the build-up of political pressure and how this 
pressure confuses commanders in the field. 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


195 


To this day, I am firmly convinced that these two 
orders contributed materially to the tragic events 
leading to the defeat of 20th October. The advance to 
contact started in considerable confusion, with lack of 
planning and lack of confidence in the higher leader- 
ship. Relations between Sen and TJmrao (already 
unhappy) worsened with this direct interference in 
Umrao’s domain. Relations between forward and rear 
commanders were strained at the start line. Thereafter 
there was little mutual trust with disastrous conse- 
quences- to the smooth conduct of operations. 

In well regulated armies it is not the statutory 
function of superior commanders to order the moves of 
units, or to evict junior commanders from their HQs. 
A formation is given a task, and the formation com r 
mander executes it. If he fails, he should be removed. 
A task was given by GOC 4 Division and was being 
carried out competently by 9 Punjab. The move to 
the Namka Chu was not for the Army Commander to 
order, unless he did so as part of a full operation order, 
verbal or written, to his immediate subordinate - the 
Corps Commander. The tendency to issue verbal 
orders and to interfere with the actions of local com- 
manders . began as early as 13th September. 

The entire chain of command was disrupted by 
two ill-conceived orders issued verbally, in temper 
or under duress. The head was severed and it was 
not till 25th September that the COs, the Brigade 
Commander and GOG 4 Division were able to com- 
municate with each other readily. The result was lack 
of information, lack of direction, all-round uncertainty 
about what was happening, and frayed tempers -all 
during a vital phase. 9 Punjab was committed and 
pinned down at the Namka Chu without a firm base, 
without administrative cover, and with no commander 
to control or help them. As they were in contact they 
could not be , used for mobile, offensive operations. 
Thus the only acclimatised battalion within 200 miles 



196 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


of Thagla was rendered ineffective. Instead of speeding 
up operations we had retarded them till fresh troops 
could be inducted. This haste set the pace for the next 
few days. 

Darkness comes early in the mountains, the sun 
setting at about 2.30 p.m. in Towang. Movement is 
reckoned and organised in stages. One must move 
early enough to complete a stage by about 2 p.m. It 
■was ridiculous and improper to order me to leave at 
once, as I would achieve no worthwhile distance. How 
could I organise porterage at that hour as a Brigade 
Commander’s party requires at least 50 porters - 14 
porters are required only for the Commander’s Rover 
wireless set? What was I to do “forward?” Brigade 
Commanders are not appointed merely to rush to the 
“scene of occurrence”; they are expected to command 
and administer their brigades at a distance or they 
will only lose themselves in the confusion of combat 
and get a distorted picture of the tactical situation. 
They must of course visit the battlefield frequently to* 
acquaint themselves with the ground and the battle 
situation and take personal charge when necessary. 
The decision is entirely theirs and not that of their 
superiors. 

* * * 

I left Towang at 5 a.m. on 14th September with 
my Intelligence Officer, Captain T. K. Gupta, and the 
usual commander’s party, but without my senior staff 
officers. My staff had worked all night collecting 
porters and preparing loads for a long absence from 
HQ,. My party had to be self-contained for our own 
administration and to carry charging sets, batteries and 
special fuel for charging sets. All these loads were 
bulky and heavy. I was reluctant to leave my staff 
behind. A Brigade Commander’s staff has more to 
do than assist him in staff matters. The senior 
members are his confidants and companions and must 
be together in a crisis. For days while wandering in 
the Himalayas, I had no one to talk to or to share my 



the trap is baited 


197 


thoughts and anxieties -a fate worse than solitary 
confinement. 

It was raining heavily as we set out, with a gale- 
force wind. As usual, Towang was covered in a thick 
pall of mist, with 'visibility some 15 yards only -a 
miserable day on which to leave on a hopeless military 
venture. Little did I know that I would never see 
Towang again. I was feeling humiliated at the manner 
in which I had been ejected from my HQ. It should 
have been obvious that the senior field commander in 
Kameng should have had a helicopter on call to save 
time and energy. 

After a gruelling march we reached Lumla after 
dark. I had tried to contact 9 Punjab throughout the 
march, but was unable to do so. I was pleased at 
covering 22 miles in the mountains in a few hours. 
The value of acclimatisation was amply demonstrated. 
Any normal fit man can survive and fight in the 
mountains, provided he is given a chance to adjust 
his lungs ana blood count. I can say, in all humility, 
that I did not suffer a single day’s indisposition. I kept 
fit and mentally alert throughout despite sharing all 
the hardships and privations of my men. The sudden 
illness of a commander can influence the whole course 
of events. The key to this is strict adherence to the 
laws of acclimatisation. 

On the 15 th we covered another march of 18 miles 
to Shakti. I was still out of touch with everyone. 
I cannot conceive of anything more frustrating (and 
dangerous) for a commander than to be away in the 
blue, and not know what was happening to his troops ; 
or what was being plotted for him at higher levels. 

On 16th September we made another early start 
from Shakti and reached Lumpu at about 3 p.m. 
The going was really hard due to incessant rain, 
cold, mud and slush. W e wondered if we would ever 
get dry again and were very tired after three forced 
marches. 



198 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The base at Lumpu was organised by 9 Punjab, 
assisted by the Assam Rifles detachment. The Second- 
in-Command (2 1/C) 9 Punjab was in charge, and was 
responsible for collecting air-drops, the carry to the 
Namka Chu and for submitting indents to the rear. 
He was also responsible for maintaining wireless com- 
munication with Towang and Divisional HQat Tezpur, 
All these dudes were outside the scope of an infantry 
battalion ; they were the responsibility of formation HQ,, 
assisted by the necessary' adminitrative and signal units. 

The order to hasten the move of 9 Punjab to the 
Thagla area apparently came as a result of “decisions” 
taken in Delhi on 13th and 14th September. During 
the high-powered discussions held on the 13th, General 
Thapar, the Army Chief, is said to have informed the 
Defence Minister that there were now only 50 or 60 
Chinese, and not 600, near Dhola. He had therefore 
ordered the Army Commander (Sen) to take action 
against them without waiting for the whole Brigade to 
concentrate. The Army Commander accordingly 
ordered 9 Punjab to be moved as fast as possible. How 
can history be kind to Chiefs and Army Commanders 
who set about their business in this way? It is wrong 
to be optimistic; and even more wrong to order units 
about, without hearing the local commander’s views, 
fully assessing the relevant factors of the situation and 
the implications of such orders. 

It is a notorious fact that the enemy strength and 
capability always appear more negligible at Army HQ 
and Government levels than to the unfortunate battalion 
and company commanders in direct contact with that 
enemy. Even allowing for this tendency, General 
Thapar’s appreciation, if correctly reported, must surely 
take the prize as the most fantastic piece of wishful 
thinking and unwarranted assumption of the Thagla 
Battle. Ultimately the Chinese used over 20,000 men! 
One expects the Chief of an Army to have the latest 
Intelligence and air tactical reconnaissance reports. 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


199 


I have harped on. this point because I wish to emphasise 
that the Thagla operation was never looked upon as 
anything but a petty border dispute from the very 
start. Had it been otherwise, the entire approach 
might have been more circumspect. 

To get back to the conference of 13th September, 
let us analyse the damage that was done by the casual 
approach to a potentially explosive situation. The 
comforting assessment of the Chinese strength (60 men) 
produced its own logical strategic deduction. For the 
arm-chair strategists and policy-framers at Delhi, it 
produced the delusion that this was the fleeting oppor- 
tunity for a charge up the Thagla slopes regardless of 
all other factors. Such a charge, it was deduced, would 
cause panic and chaos in the Chinese ranks, after which 
the attackers would gallop on to the Thagla summits, 
with orders to build a helipad “at once”. Sundry 
VIPs would then arrive with their favourite cameramen 
and the affair would be consigned to history. 

This concept betrayed a lack of comprehension 
of the military problems involved. It was necessary 
to secure a firm base and organise an assured resupply 
route; as otherwise the enemy could cut off the Indian 
Force. We knew or should have known that the 
Chinese could easily rush reinforcements forward. The 
venture would surely have ended in disaster. No 
commander in the field could have ever issued such 
an order. 

There was another meeting on 14th September. 
The Army Chief now seems to have arrived at a more 
realistic appraisal of the military factors. The previous 
day he was of the view that the small Chinese party 
could be evicted by one battalion. The Army Chief 
is also reported to have “reminded” Government of the 
many shortages and weaknesses of the Army and stated 
that it could not cope with large-scale reprisals in 
Ladakh and/or NEFA. Lieut. -General Daulet Singh, 
General Officer Commanding'in-Chief, Western Com- 



200 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


mand, who was also present, forecast a complete military 
disaster in Ladakh. Gen. Sen stated that he could not 
counter the Chinese in NEFA, if they came in strength. 
Despite these warnings, Government thought that we 
must resist the Chinese, irrespective of the consequences. 
The time had come when “we should give — or appear 
to give — the Chinese a crack at least in one place, as 
we could no longer tolerate their encroachments into 
our territory”. Obviously the military factors could 
have no place in such thinking. Chinese encroach- 
ments must be stopped: thus far and no further. How- 
ever heroic the spirit of this determination, the Govern- 
ment “decision” was divorced from the realities - and 
the sudden switch to an offensive posture was ill-suited 
to an Army committed by the policy of non-violence, 
to a defensive role only ana by Government parsimony 
to crippling shortages. "When the enemy was the 
Peoples’ Liberation Army of China the ‘decision’ was 
quixotic. 

This Government “decision” which was obviously 
the datum line for the relentless and seemingly irre- 
vocable determination to evict the Chinese, was taken 
at a meeting of the Defence Minister, the Army Chief 
and two Army Commanders with presumably one or 
two Ministry officials in attendance. The Prime Minister 
was abroad on this fateful day and so was the Finance 
Minister ! 

Did the Defence Minister give this order on his 
own initiative? Was it within his power to do so? 
Had he arrogated to himself the powers of Government 
and was it within his power to commit the nation 
to a clash of arms without consulting the Defence 
Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) and the Chiefs of 
Staff Committee? Mr. Lai Bahadur Shastri, the then 
Home Minister and a permanent member of the DCC, 
was present in Delhi; was he consulted? Where were 
all the various organs of Government, devised for 
planning and prosecuting war? Was the Prime Minister 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


201 


advised to return to India? Was public opinion 
really so inflamed on 13th/14th September, or was it 
allowed to become inflamed by subsequent ill-advised 
remarks by Government officials and inept public 
relations? Who whetted the public appetite for a 
confrontation with a first-class power? Whatever the 
compelling political reasons, no individual or group of 
individuals should have been allowed to take such far- 
reaching decisions, against expert military advice. 

Having received and accepted this order from 
Government, the Chief of Army Staff should have 
recalled his Chief of the General Staff, Gen. ICaul 
from leave. He did so only on 2nd October after 
Nehru had returned from abroad. A major clash 
with China was more than probable and the General 
Staff could not function without its head. I have often 
wondered if Gen. Kaul would have accepted the task 
of evicting the Chinese so readily, if he had been in 
day-to-day touch with developments from 8th September. 
He had a reputation for being bold and active and he 
would surely have visited Towang and Tezpur and 
assessed the situation. He had visited Towang in 
November 1961 and had a fair idea of the logistical 
problems of this area. Had he kept in touch more 
recently, he might have been more inclined to ‘bicker 5 
at. the difficulty of evicting the Chinese when offered 
this task. Looking back on events I believe Gen. 
Kaul’s leave was ill-timed and the omission in not 
recalling him a blunder. His continuance on leave 
typified the casual air with which even the highest 
officials were approaching the task of “herding out the 
Chinese’ 5 from Dhola. 

.1 might add here that the absence, on leave, of 
Senior Commanders and Staff Officers is a singular 
victory for the enemy’s deception plans. I will illustrate 
this with just one of the many examples from World 
War II. Field-Marshal Alexander’s cover plan before 
the fourth and last battle of Cassino was so successful 



202 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


that General Von Senger, Commander of the 14th 
Panzer Corps in Cassino was on leave in Germany, 
when the Allied assault commenced on 11th May 1944. 
Another German General, Von Vietinghoff, was plan- 
ning to proceed on leave on this day. In September 
1962, we were at the receiving end of Chinese ruses and 
stratagems. The Chinese deception and cover plans 
were well conceived and executed, and thus our key 
officials were on leave or abroad. 

On this day a Government spokesman made this 
astonishing statement: “Government are satisfied that 
effective steps have been taken to keep the Chinese 
out of our territory”. The Chinese were already inside 
our territory and 9 Punjab was stretched over 7 miles 
facing them at the so-called bridges. It would be 
interesting to find out who gave Government such a 
satisfying assurance. The Chinese could have en- 
croached at any point they chose and at any time that 
suited them. These and subsequent facile pronounce- 
ments in official bulletins helped to inflame public 
opinion and not the other way round, as claimed by 
Government apologists. Had the Thagla incident 
been played down till the military implications were 
studied, public opinion would not have reacted as 
violently as it did. 

* * * 

I decided to rest at Lumpu for the day and make 
no apology for this decision. I felt it my duty and 
responsibility to the troops to husband my strength 
and not risk my health. It was not easy to find replace- 
ments for brigadiers in command of Himalayan forma- 
tions. I had the advantage of being acclimatised. 
Some officers and men who were rushed to the Dhola 
area succumbed to the hazards of the mountains, fell 
ill and took no further part in the proceedings. It is 
foolish to ignore the problems of living and moving in 
the mountains, at heights above 9,000 feet. In this 
respect, we must emulate the local Monpas who move 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


203 


slowly, rest frequently and undertake short daily stages. 
Over the centuries they have developed the physique 
and the lungs for surviving in the Himalayas. Com- 
manders who later ordered forced marches, day after 
day, and who otherwise drove troops beyond human 
endurance, only courted disaster. 

The day’s halt at Lump a enabled me to establish 
contact with my staff at Towang and Division. I was 
informed that two more battalions from the plains 
were being made available to me to complete my order 
of battle, to enable me “to evict the Chinese”. GOC 
sent a signal promising to visit the Dhola area as soon 
as possible, to discuss the next phase of operations. 
I told him to postpone his visit till I had had a chance 
to visit 9 Punjab, carry out a ground reconnaissance 
and make an appreciation. Without seeing the ground 
over which we had to operate it would have been sheer 
folly to plan any sort of military operation. 

* * * 

I watched the air-drops at Lumpu and found to 
my chagrin, but not surprise, that 30 to 40 per cent of 
the parachutes were not opening out and the drops 
were total losses. The reason for this waste of air 
effort was due to our policy of retrieving and re-using 
old parachutes. For years we had been wasting energy 
and resources on collecting used parachutes from for- 
ward posts. These would lie in the open for months 
and would then be transported on mules to the 
nearest road-head, sometimes a distance of over 100 
miles. A repair team would then attempt to patch 
them up for re-use. In the crisis of September-October 
1962 they proved wasteful and increased our adminis- 
trative problems. No real planning could be carried 
out, as no one could predict the percentage of good 
drops. A little foreign exchange given in time, or a 
geared-up indigenous source, might have seen us a little 
better prepared, for such emergencies. Air supply was 
the life-line of the troops sent to the Dhola area to fight 
the Chinese, as there was no land route for maintenance. 



204 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


This was a glaring example of misplaced economy at 
the expense of operational readiness. 

I was also amazed to find that there were no 
4-gallon jerrycans and kerosene oil was being air- 
dropped in 44-gallon drums. The despatches did 
not care to reason how such a large and heavy load 
could be retrieved up steep inclines; and how was 
precious kerosene to be delivered to the troops in the 
Namka Chu in large containers, over a 13,000 feet pass. 
* * * 

*1 left Lumpu on 18th September for the Namka 
Chu, in torrential rain. There is not a single habitation 
between Lumpu and Thagla, a distance of about 15 
miles; the area consisting of a number of grazing grounds, 
with occasional huts built by the local herders for 
shelter. The large flat pastures became quagmires in 
the monsoons. The locals use logs to make crossing 
places for individual herders and their cattle. When 
large bodies of troops moved across these logs they 
became submerged, and the only way to negotiate 
marshy patches was to wade across in knee-deep mud. 
There is nothing more depressing than to wade through 
a morass of cold mud and slush, burdened with a heavy 
load, at a height over 10,000 feet. 

We camped in a herder’s hut at Serkhim for the 
night. 

After a very early start on 1 9th September, we 
made for Bridges I and XI via Hathungla Pass (13,400 
feet). The going was still bad and progress slow due 
to more mud, slush, marshes and numerous steep 
ascents. The climb &om the base of Hafrmng’ia to the 
summit took over 2-£ hours. Thereafter the descent 
was extremely treacherous, steep and strained knees 
and thighs to breaking point. A false step over slippery, 
lichen-covered boulders would result in a sprained 
ankle. It was extremely difficult to maintain one’s 
balance, even with a staff. We marched through thick 

• See Sketch II for route from Lumpu to the Namka Chu and description of the 
Thagla Ridge battle Zone. 



the trap is baited 


205 


jungles with numerous bamboo groves at 11,000 feet! 
I reached Bridge I exhausted and mentally depressed. 
I had seen for myself the maintenance route from 
Lumputo the Namka Chu. On the map it appears 
to be a mere hop, but on the ground it was as devilish 
a Line of Communication as can be imagined. 

The weather was bitterly cold and the scanty 
shelters could house but a handful of men. The turn- 
round time for loaded men, from Lumpu to the Namka 
Chu Valley, was a minimum of 4 days. Porters and 
pioneers would have to carry 4 days’ rations and sufficient 
clothing and bedding to survive the bitterly cold nights. 
In the circumstances the effective pay-load of an average 
pioneer/porter would be negligible. Later, experience 
showed that not more than 10 lbs. per carrier were 
delivered to the Punjabis. The more unscrupulous 
pioneers delivered nothing, as they either dumped their 
loads or ate the rations meant for the troops manning 
the river line. 

For the second time since 8th September I was 
assailed by doubts and misgivings. How was I to 
build up and maintain the Punjabis ? They had moved 
on hard scales and pouch ammunition. They would 
require their heavy weapons, mortar ammunition, 
digging tools, defence stores, snow-clothing and cumber- 
some daily rations for 500 men. They had to man the 
Lumpu dropping zone, dig-in, carry out local patrolling 
and confront the Chinese wherever they showed them- 
selves. They could not be expected to provide their 
own porterage as well. It was absolutely impossible to 
move artillery pieces, even if gun-sites could be found. 

The Karpola I route over a precipitous 16,500-foot 
• Pass would be even more difficult. It would be a 
herculean task to move a brigade to the Namka Chu 
and maintain it there. Even in my most pessimistic 
moments I. had not imagined that we would have to 
face such insurmountable difficulties. Now I would 
have to convince Division. Above Division there was 



206 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


a likelihood that my representation would be labelled as 
“belly-aching”. I am reminded of General Wolfe’s 
famous saying: “People must be of the profession to 
understand the disadvantages and difficulties we labour 
under, arising from the uncommon natural strength of 
the country”. The Indian Cabinet of 1962, with its 
civilian advisers was not the forum in which a detailed 
grasp of military practicalities could be expected to 
flourish. Very few, if any, had the slightest idea of the 
manifold ramifications of war. They were not “of the 
profession”. Would those “of the profession” then 
summon the necessary courage to appreciate the dis- 
advantages and difficulties? At such a time a cool 
head and a firm grasp of basic military principles was 
essential. 

I was met at Bridge I by Colonel Misra. I first 
congratulated him on his truly remarkable feat in 
reaching the river so speedily and in good order. 
9 Punjab had lived up to my assessment of them as a 
first-rate infantry battalion. 

We sat within sight of Bridge I with a solitary 
field sketch spread out in front of us. This sketch was 
the only ‘map’ available as there were no accurate 
Survey maps of this area. The J-inch editions were 
very old and vaguely based on the details provided by 
the British Officer who was deputed to visit the area 
and align the McMahon Line, as agreed at the Simla 
Conference of 1913-14. It showed the Namka Chu 
. flowing from North to South, whereas it actually flowed 
from West to East. There is a human story to explain 
this strange lapse. It is said that the British Survey 
Officer got infatuated with a Bhutanese beauty and 
spent more time in Bhutan than he had allowed for. 
To return on time, he by-passed the Namka Chu Valley 
and headed straight for the Nyamjang Chu. As the 
latter flowed from North ,to South from the Thagla 
Watershed, he deduced that the Namka Chu must do 
the same! I have often wondered if this map misled 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


207 


our planners into thinking that 9 Punjab were facing 
east instead of north! 

The rough field sketch was made by a lance-naik 
of the Assam Rifles detachment which had first estab- 
lished Dhola Post in Alay 1962. He had drawn it on 
a foolscap sheet, marking the bridges as he went along, 
showing approximate distances, as accurate pacing was 
not possible due to mud, snow and frequent detours to 
avoid buffs and thick patches of jungle. The sketch 
had one major discrepancy which was later to cost 
us dearly. As the lance-naik was running out of the 
foolscap sheet he showed a hut, named Tsangle by the 
locals, at the extreme left-hand comer. On the sketch 
it appeared to be two or three miles from Dhola. In 
fact it was over two days’ march away. I was hard 
put to make anyone believe this. The sketch had 
become an immutable, accurate document, guiding the 
decisions of the top brass, from the Government to the 
section commander. It was not meant to replace a 
Survey map and yet it misled higher formations and 
Army HQ,. They could not, or deliberately did not 
want to allow for the formidable time and space prob- 
lems of the area. 

A word about the so-called bridges would be 
timely. The “bridges” on the Namka Ghu achieved 
international fame during September-October 1962. 
There was a great deal of talk of bridges being destroyed 
or battles to gain possession of bridges and so on. In 
fact these bridges were just two or three logs, tied 
together, and slung across the fast flowing Namka Ghu, 
to enable herders and their cattle to cross to the high 
Thagla pastures. It is important to remember this, 
as orders were issued to defend, or ensure the security 
of these “bridges”. They had no significance, political, 
strategic or tactical, as by the first week of October it 
was possible to wade across the Namka Ghu at any 
point. This was one more example of grandiloquent 



208 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


orders being issued from a remote controlling source 
profoundly ignorant of the ground factors. 

The river Namka Ghu was a very fast-flowing, 
boulder-strewn mountain stream. At the narrowest 
point it is some 24 feet and at its widest about 120 feet. 
It is a feeder to the main river the Nyamjang Chu 
which flows from Khenzemane in the north to the 
Bhutan border at Bleting. The Namka Chu forms the 
catchment area for the Thagla Massif and the Tsang- 
dhar-Hathungla heights. Its source is a group of small 
lakes at a height of 14,000 feet. It drops 8,000 feet in 
about 16 miles. It was unfbrdable only after torrential 
rains or at the time of melting snows; it was not a 
military obstacle except for short periods. 

* * * 

Colonel Misra had a great deal to tell me as I had 
not seen him since 10th September. 9 Punjab had 
reached Bridge II at about 8-30 a.m. on the 15th of 
September and found a company of Chinese troops on 
both sides of the river. The Chinese party was 
accompanied by a Chinese civilian official. They 
shouted in Hindi that we should withdraw from the 
Namka Chu (Kachileng according to them) area as 
it was Chinese territory. They said that the Indian 
and Chinese peoples had an unbreakable friendship 
and this friendship should not be marred by petty 
border incidents. They asked our men why we had 
moved regular troops and claimed that they were only 
Chinese Frontier Guards and not soldiers of the People’s 
lihexatinn. Asmy of Gbisva.. Fbaaltj thsy -asked \k» 
send our local civil officers to discuss the exact location 
of the, border, with a view to an amicable settlement 
and to prevent firing and bloodshed. 

I mentioned^ to Misra that the Chinese actions 
were true to their previous methods as they had be- 
haved in a similar manner at Longju and Khenzemane 
in 1959 and on other occasions. 



pS'SKAMDAR 

THE* TRAP IS BAITED 209 

Colonel Misra said tliat as his orders were to fire 
only in self-defence and to sit in front of the Chinese 
if they refused to vacate Indian territory, he had left 
the battalion less a company at Bridges I and II, by- 
passed the Chinese blocking his path, and made for 
Bridges III and IV with one company. Dhola Post 
was at Bridge III. He had hacked his way across a 
thick bamboo jungle. The Chinese did not trail his 
party. 

He had reached Dhola at about midday and found 
that the Chinese had previously destroyed the logs 
over the river at Bridge III. A Chinese detachment 
of some 50 men had taken up position, after our relieving 
Assam Rifles party had reached Dhola, on the 13th of 
September. 

Misra had left the company at Bridge III to face the 
Chinese and sent one platoon to Tsangdhar which was 
the commanding feature dominating Bridges III and IV 
and which had earlier been nominated as vital to the 
defence of Dhola. 

Misra and his gallant men had completed the first 
phase of the operation, namely the relief of Dhola Post, 
the re-opening of the snpply ronte and taking up positions 
opposite the Chinese wherever they had dag-in. 

The Namka Chu from Bridges I to IV had become 
the de-facto military boundary. The Chinese had control 
of the whole of Thagla Ridge, which was ours. Unfor- 
tunately the Punjabis were pinned down over 7 to 
9 miles in small localities, manning flag-posts to prevent 
minor incursions. Their localities had no mutual 
support, limited fields of fire and no room for manoeuvre. 
They had only pouch ammunition and two 3-inch 
mortars. 

After this briefing and rest, we left for Bridge II. 
I went straight to the Chinese sentry post on our side 
of the river. The logs at this bridge were intact. 
I saw two red-faced Chinese soldiers with marked 



210 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Mongoloid features, who appeared to be in their late 
teens. Their uniforms were excellent and they had 
modem automatic weapons. "When they saw me 
approaching them they made an attempt to increase 
their alertness, brought their weapons to the ready 
and trained the barrels at my solar plexus. The Chinese 
on the far bank were watching. When I attempted to 
speak to one of the sentries in Hindi, he merely grunted 
and waved me away with his rifle. 

I must admit I was impressed with the Chinese 
soldiers. These were no scruffy Frontier Guards; they 
appeared to be healthy, well-clad, well-armed and 
determined troops. I later told my GOG of my 
favourable impression. For a long time there had 
been some loose talk in the Army that the Chinese in 
Tibet were ill-equipped and not as good as they had 
been made out to be. This view was allegedly expressed 
by Gen. Kaul, in his capacity as CGS, to the Infantry 
Commanders Conference held at Mhow, in mid-1962. 

The Chinese later claimed that they knew of my 
arrival at the river bank on 19th September. While 
I was being taken back to my place of imprisonment, 
a Chinese staff officer came to see me and asked why 
I had deemed it necessary to intervene in a petty border 
situation. He claimed I was the Deputy Commander 
of 4 Infantry Division, and my presence at that early 
stage indicated our preparations and intention to attack. 
He blamed me for escalating a small border incident 
into a major battle ! I was puzzled and wondered how 
this officer could have known of my arrival. Of course 
he may have obtained this information from other 
prisoners or he could have made an intelligent guess. 
However looking back, I realised that the information 
could have been passed on to the Chinese by an 
agent. 

I recalled that the guide given to me for my trip 
to the river looked unusually alert and intelligent for 
a Monpa, and I remember mentioning this to my 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


211 


Intelligence Officer. My suspicions were really aroused 
when I found that he had disappeared after our arrival 
at Bridge I. When questioned, my Intelligence Officer 
said that he had gone across to the Chinese-occupied 
Thagla Ridge to find his cattle, as well as to obtain 
information about the Chinese. Was he the classic spy 
working for both sides? 

I believe that this same Monpa guide escorted 
Gen. Kaul and his party when they came to the Dhola 
area on 7th/8th October. I do not wish to malign 
anyone. I have recounted this incident merely to 
emphasise the necessity for vigilance in these matters. 
One doubtful guide can cause a great deal of harm. 
There must be greater co-ordination between the 
Army, Intelligence Staff and Civil Administration. 

After my visit to the Chinese sentries we returned 
to the CO’s command post. At this time, I was 
handed my copy of the most fantastic order issued 
between the 8th of September and the 20th of October 
1962. The signal with a Military Operations Direc- 
torate file number (which I knew by heart after four 
years) was from the Chief of Army Staff to the entire 
chain of command. The gist of the order was: 

“P Punjab will capture Thagla , contain Tumtsola 
and Karpola II by 19th September ”. 

This was not a feasible order based on an estimate 
of the situation. It was another slogan sent as a result 
of political pressure. Apart from the gross impropriety 
of issuing orders directly to an infantry battalion, Gen. 
Thapar could have misled the Government into thinking 
that the operation could be carried out. Politicians 
do not expect their military chiefs to agree to under- 
take impossible tasks. A threat of resignation might 
have sobered the political bosses at that early stage. 
Gen. Thapar owed it to the nation to have done so. 

The tasks given were beyond the scope of 9 Punjab. 
Later when Thapar was criticised for not evicting the 
Chinese as promised he is reported to have blamed the 



212 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


forward formation in words reminiscent of Marshal 
Joffre’s famous: “Our troops have not shown in the 
field the offensive qualities expected of them!” 

The Chief’s signal created quite a mystery as it 
could not be traced, in Delhi, after the defeat in NEFA. 
The first question that I was asked by Gen. J. N. 
Chaudhuri, after my repatriation from China, was 
whether I had received any signal directly from the 
late Chief, to evict the Chinese. I promptly gave him 
a verbatim recitation of the extraordinary message. 
He shook his head in amazement at my ability to recite 
the signal by heart. I then told him that the message 
was so absurd that I would probably chant it on my 
death-bed. 

This order was issued while the Prime Minister 
and Finance Minister were abroad and the Defence 
Minister was having his western clothes dry-cleaned 
for New York. The CGS of the Army was enjoying 
the salubrious climate of Kashmir. All the key desks 
in Delhi were empty. 

How and why was this order issued? Gen. Kaul 
tells us that the Defence Minister held two meetings 
on 15th and 17th September in Delhi. On the 15th 
it was "decided” to contain the Chinese near Thagla 
and, if possible, to establish a post at Karpola and 
Yumtsola. Accordingly Army HQ, issued this order to 
Eastern Command: 

“P Punjab will capture the Chinese position one 
thoiisand yards North-East of Dhola and contain 
them South of Thagla 

On 17th September Gen. Sen said, “It would 
take more time for the Brigade to concentrate (his 
earlier estimate of 10 days being incorrect). It was 
decided to carry out defensive reconnaissance and 
capture any small Chinese pockets and dominate the 
area {south of Thagla)”. This was another meaningless 
exercise in verbal gymnastics. The Chinese already 
held the whole of the Thagla Ridge and they had not 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


213 


obliged us with ‘small pockets’ to swallow. But one thing 
emerges clearly, that the seeds of Kaul’s subsequent plan 
to sit behind the Chinese were planted at this meeting. 

Gen. Thapar overlooked the following vital 
military factors at the time he issued his order. The 
Chinese had deployed more than two companies opposite 
us and a prudent estimate would indicate that the rest 
of the battalion would be near at hand. (Units always 
operate in recognised bodies and not in a count of 
heads.) 9 Punjab did not have the necessary superiority 
to dislodge the Chinese. 

9 Punjab was pinned down opposite the Chinese 
posts and could not mount an attack without altering 
their positions and forsaking their original tasks. An 
attack cannot be mounted under enemy observation. 

The terrain made it impossible for an attack to 
be mounted between Bridges I to IV. The precipitous 
slopes would have caused our troops to be massacred. 
On the far side of the fast-flowing Namka Chu the 
Punjabis would face not only prepared Chinese positions, 
but the great wall of mountains rising almost vertically 
immediately behind the river to the Thagla Massif. 
They would have to wade the roaring, boulder-strewn 
river as they had no bridging equipment before 
attacking the mountains head-on, while a comfortably 
entrenched enemy, watching them throughout from 
a vantage point, could pick them off as he pleased. 
On this battlefield Nature was as formidable an enemy 
as the Chinese. 

The men had no rations and were short of 
ammunition and porters. They had come on hard 
scales and pouch ammunition. Every precious round 
had to be carried by the men for several miles over a 
13,400-foot pass. For the defending Chinese there 
would be an abundance of everything. 

We had no fire support except for the two mortars 
and a few bombs. A Chinese infantry battalion has 
.a great deal more fire-power. 



214 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


We had no digging tools or saws to cut logs for 
bunkers, or defence stores (mines and wire). If we 
attacked the Chinese and gained ground we could not 
consolidate and hold such ground against a counter- 
attack. There were no reinforcements within 15 days’ 
march of the Namka Chu. If we precipitated a hasty, 
major skirmish and lost, the Chinese could advance to 
Hathungla or even to Lumpu and forestall our build-up. 
We had no firm base; any reckless advance or attack 
without securing a firm base to protect our line of 
communication would have been sheer madness and 
would certainly have resulted in the annihilation of 
the attacking force.* 

I flatly refused to obey this order and informed 
Divisional HQ, accordingly. GOC agreed with me 
and protested to XXXIII Corps, who in turn asked 
Eastern Command to have the order countermanded. 

I signalled GOG that I would not accept any further 
“orders” till I had completed my reconnaissance and 
had time to collect my thoughts for a detailed appre- 
ciation. I had not only to contend with a tactical 
battle at Brigade level but with the administrative 
problems of a major theatre of war. 

I ordered Misra to ignore the signal and await 
orders from me. There was all-round relief. Indian 
troops are obedient and disciplined. They would have 
given their lives if ordered. 

After a quick meal Misra and I discussed the 
various factors that had a bearing on the orders to 
evict the Chinese. It was at once apparent that it 
was not possible to do so with his battalion. We then 
visited the various company localities. At Bridge II 
I met the' Company Second-in-command, Subedar 
Partap Singh. I was taken aback at seeing him at 
the front as I had attended his farewell party in Towang 
and had also met him at Misamari awaiting a berth 

• These points remained valid on 25th September and were included in 
my Appreciation — Author. . 




THE TRAP IS BAITED 


215 


on the train bound for Meerut, his Regimental Centre. 
He was proceeding on pension after completing 28 years 
of gallant service, mostly in the field in World War II 
and thereafter guarding India’s extensive borders. 
When I asked him why he had not left for Meerut, he 
gave me this answer, “Sahib, is this the time to go on 
pension when the battalion is likely to be involved in 
an action?” He had voluntarily rejoined the unit and 
had walked many miles to the Namka Chu. He was 
later killed in action. This humble soldier had dis- 
played more patriotism and sense of duty than many 
others who should have set an example. 

At another platoon post I stopped to have tea 
with the men. I was offered a large mug of sweet tea. 
I knew that the battalion had been without sugar for 
some days and were drinking tea with salt. There 
were no grouses and no complaints. The Indian 
soldier asks for very little and does not worry if this 
little is not provided. Sometimes this sterling quality 
has been misused by incompetent staff officers to cover 
their lack of planning and organisation. 

I also noted that the post was preparing a meal of 
rice, a cereal that is not relished by Sikhs and Dogras. 
North Indians prefer flour. When I asked why they 
had no flour I was told that they could not spare a man 
to carry the flat metal board (called a tawa ) and 
preferred to carry an additional box of ammunition. 
The commander had parcelled out the rations to each 
individual to save man-power. Even a humble non- 
commissioned-officer had shown more sense of admin- 
istration than some senior and more educated officers. 
God bless the Punjabis who cheerfully bore the hardships 
of the Himalayas in the cause of their country. They 
lived on rice and salt for the first five days - hard 
scales indeed! 

* * * 

To complete the story of the 18th let us return to 
Delhi. A senior Civil Servant was telling the Press 



216 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


that “The Army had been told to drive away the 
Chinese from our territory in NEFA”. Ministers, 
Civil Servants and even the Army Chief were taking 
decisions regardless of the military situation and were 
blissfully unconcerned with the fact of whether the Army 
had the resources and capacity to develop a favourable 
military balance vis-a-vis China. No one seemed to 
require the services of senior officers who knew the 
ground and had appreciated the military factors. 

The situation was explosive with regular troops 
of two big countries facing each other across a narrow 
river; an incident which could spark off a battle was 
inevitable sooner or later. The situation was un- 
natural, unprecedented and bordered on the eerie. 
This was the outcome of the ludicrous ideas of digging- 
in, in front of the Chinese wherever we found them. 

Was this going to be another Longju or Khen- 
zemane; or was it the prelude to something bigger? 
It would all depend on whether we kept our heads. 
Would we act in a mature and sensible manner? 
Would the top Army Brass ensure military sanity? 

* * * 

I started out on the last leg of my ground recon- 
naissance to Bridges III and IV on 20th September 
using the diversion made by the Punjabis. We trekked 
through more mud and slush. The gradients were not 
as steep as hitherto but were just as tiring to walk 
through, shin-deep in mud. It was as difficult to make 
progress on the down-slopes. To maintain one’s 
balance with a load was a feat. The carry from 
Bridge I to Bridge III was another full day’s march, 
making a total of three days from the dropping zone 
at Lumpu. The military problem was becoming 
increasingly one of porterage and delivery. 

I met the Junior Commissioned Officer of Dhola 
Post and Major Chaudhry, Commander of the Punjab 
company that had been located there to bolster-up the 
morale of the Assam Rifles personnel. I questioned 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


217 


the JCO closely about the Chinese intrusion on the 
8th of September and his frantic messages. He confessed 
that he might have inflated his original figure of Chinese 
intruders to ensure timely Army help. His reasons 
were sound and understandable. He said 600/1,200 
Chinese troops would attract the immediate reaction 
of the Army. If he had reported 60 in the first instance 
he would have been told to deal with the situation 
himself. He also told me that he had been appre- 
hensive for some days, as a week earlier a party from 
his post had been threatened by a Chinese patrol. 
His party was on its way to the main post at Khcn 2 e- 
mane to draw pay for the men, when it was accosted 
by the Chinese. The Chinese officer in charge had 
asked our men to leave Chinese territory (Thagla) 
failing which they would be thrown out by force. With 
this incident fresh in his mind he thought that the 
Chinese had come to make good their tlireat and 
liquidate his post. I now do not blame the poor man 
as I would probably have felt and acted in the same 
way if I had been isolated, many miles away from help, 
and faced by a larger body of Chinese troops. 

I studied the ground and realised that Dhola was 
militarily useless, indefensible and dominated by 
Chinese positions and located in a trap. It had poor 
approaches, no fields of fire and no mutual support. 
The Hathungla and Karpola I routes could not be 
defended by one battalion. A secure base for opera- 
tions was an elementary precaution but could not be 
established as our Lines of Communication and the 
Lumpu dropping zone were vulnerable to a counter- 
thrust. It was impossible even for a brigade to provide 
its own firm base and assault troops. However since 
Dhola was a prestige post and the orders were that we 
were not to succumb to Chinese threats, there was no 
other option but to leave it as a symbol of our determi- 
nation to retain the posts we had established under 
the Forward Policy. 


218 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The Dhola area was unsuitable as a forming-up 
place for mounting any form of attack against the 
intruding Chinese. I could see the three tiers of 
Chinese defence positions, the first was on the river 
bank opposite our own troops; the second half-way up 
the Thagla slopes on Paitsai Spur and the third on the 
crest of the Ridge. The northern slopes of Thagla 
were less wooded than the Namka Chu Valley, with 
reasonable fields of fire, and it would be suicidal to 
attempt a frontal assault. To silence the network of 
machine-guns on the forward slopes and the mortars on 
the reverse slopes, would require more artillery than 
we could ever hope to bring up. We did not have a 
single gun or heavy mortar. 

I then studied the Tsangdhar feature, south of 
Dhola Post. It was some 3,000/4,000 yards south of 
Thagla and dominated both banks of the Namka 
Chu. It was the obvious feature on which to 
locate our main defended area once the “flag-waving” 
phase of operations was over. Tsangdhar had a flat 
top which provided the only possible gun positions. 
Colonel Misra told me that tne Tsangdhar feature was 
a potential dropping zone for Dakota aircraft, as there 
. was a suitable area approximately 120 yards by about 
40/60 yards wide: He requested me to arrange for 
air-drops for his platoon to save him the long carry 
from Lumpu via the Bridges — a turn-round of some 
7 days. 

Little did I envisage that this innocent request 
would later mislead everyone, specially the inveterate 
optimists, and be the major plank on which they rested 
rash and ill-advised military and political decisions. 
Tsangdhar was later foisted on the Air Force as a full- 
fledged dropping zone, to drop the vast tonnages 
required, within 9 days, forcing them to use Fairchild 
Packets (C-119). They scattered their precious loads 
in deep ravines from where they could not be retrieved. 
They attempted to drop artillery guns and ammunition. 



THE TRAP IS BAITED 


219 


These feverish drops, under the noses of the Chinese, 
naturally gave the impression that we were ‘building- 
up’. There is more to air-supply than wild drops into 
inaccessible ravines, and vague hopes that the troops 
will be able to salvage something. 

We returned to Bridge I where I spent the night 
before returning to Lumpu. Colonel Misra finalised 
our notes for an appreciation of the ground, enemy 
dispositions, relative strengths (including fire-power), 
administration, build-up and weather factors. 

* * * 

At about 10.30 p.m. on 20th September the Chinese 
sentry on the south bank, near Bridge II threw a grenade 
at our sentry post which was a few yards away. Our 
post opened up and thereupon firing started from 
opposite sides of the Namka Chu. Two Chinese 
sentries were killed and two wounded. Our casualties 
were five wounded. 

This firing marked the end of the first phase of the 
Thagla operations. The confrontation of regular troops 
of battalion strength could no longer be classified as 
a border incident which could be localised. It was 
evident that a major clash would develop. The Chinese 
could not be evicted, herded out or expelled from 
Thagla Ridge. 

I set out on my return journey on 21st of Septem- 
ber and reached Lumpu at 1.00 a.m. on 22nd Septem- 
ber, where I met my friend Mr. Mongia , the Political 
Officer. He told me that he had come forward to 
meet the local Chinese Civil Official to discuss the 
Chinese incursion at Thagla. Due to the intransigent 
attitude of the Chinese, he had been ordered not to hold 
such talks. 

Mr. Mongia was an ex-Army officer who had 
opted for the NEFA Frontier Service. He was a cadet 
when I was an Instructor at the Indian Military 
Academy in 1947-49, and normally we got on extremely 



220 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


well. He gave me the good news that he had been 
able to mobilise some 500 local porters, as the Army’s 
needs were “now being accorded the highest priority”. 

Finally, we both discussed the employment of local 
porters and agreed that as firing had started at Bridge 
II, we would not use them beyond Serkhim. This was 
sensible and humane, but increased my administrative 
problem. Now it would be virtually impossible to 
achieve a build-up using Army pioneers only. 

On my return journey, I met many casuals of 
9 Punjab marching to rejoin the Battalion. These men 
had walked from Misamari in small parties on their 
own, and it will always be to their credit that not a 
single man shirked his duty. Many of the men were 
walking in tom canvas boots. The rubber soles and 
toe-caps had perished. However they bore this minor 
irritation cheerfully. When I jokingly remarked that 
Thagla was a poor substitute for leave, they promptly 
remarked that I too had cancelled my leave and 
preferred the delights of Thagla! Here was proof of the 
esprit de corps and sense of duty of our jawans. It galled 
me to hear all the loose talk of how our jawans did not 
offer a fight, and other more vicious accusations. 

* * * 

On 20 th September, the Army Commander is 
reported to have informed the Government that “a 
second battalion would reach Dhola area on 24th of 
September and the third battalion on the 29th, thus 
completing the concentration of a brigade in the 
‘requisite area’.” I did not know of this promise 
at the time. 



Chapter XI 


“Evict The Chinese” 

My return from the Thagla reconnaissance marks 
the beginning of the second phase of the Thagla Opera- 
tion during which senior officers were “planning” and 
units were being inducted and equipped. I shall first 
recapitulate the circumstances under which plans had 
to be drawn up. 

Dhola Post had been relieved and communications 
re-established. 

9 Punjab had reached the Namka Chu and were 
deployed opposite Bridges I to IV to encourage the 
Dhola Garrison, prevent further minor incursions and 
stake a claim to what was left of our territory. The 
Namka Chu had become the de facto military boundary. 
Regular troops of India and China were facing each 
other across a narrow mountain stream. 

After triggering off the Thagla incident, the 
Chinese used “every club in the bag” to sap our will 
to fight. They broadcast that talks between the two 
countries were imminent. They suggested talks at the 
petty local level to sort out the Thagla misunderstanding. 
The men began to wonder whether there would be war 
or talks. This is demoralising for troops in close contact 
with the enemy. We had no help from our own 
official organs and broadcasts thus placing the local 
commanders in a most awkward position. A while 
later, the phoney-war atmosphere was accentuated by 
the attendance of our senior Embassy officials at the 
National Day celebrations at Peking, on 1st October. 
Chinese and Indian troops had started exchanging fire 
from 20th September and there had been casualties on 
both sides. The troops were understandably indignant 
and confused. Enemies do not exchange diplomatic 



222 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


niceties and lethal fire on the same night. The civilian 
nabobs of the Ministries of External Affairs and Defence 
were no doubt still working on the Crimean War slogan 
of “Theirs but to do or die, theirs not to reason why”. 
Circa 1962 we entertained some strange notions. 

The Chinese stepped up their propaganda cam- 
paign. Loud-hailers proclaimed the eternal friendship 
between the Chinese and Indian peoples^ Chinese 
announcers (speaking in the chastest Hindi) regaled 
our men with the information that as there would soon 
be talks, there should be no firing to foul up the 
required cordiality for settling this minor dispute. On 
occasion, they questioned our presence in the Namka 
Chu Valley and blared out their case, to substantiate 
their claim to the Thagla Ridge. In the absence of 
counter-propaganda they did some harm in planting 
the seeds of doubt in the minds of the simple jawans. 

Sometimes the Chinese would magnanimously 
inform us that they were about to fell a tree, and that 
we should not get unduly perturbed if we heard loud 
crashing sounds. It was difficult to maintain a war- 
like atmosphere in the near-farcical setting. Never in 
the history of war could two regular armies have sat 
facing each other across a 40-foot water gap, exchanging 
fire and gossip; without a declaration of war; without 
a breach in diplomatic relations; and with vague 
possibilities of talks to settle the issues which had 
brough them face to face. 

HQ. Eastern Command and HQ XXXIII Corps 
who had been trying to cobble together a “brigade” 
had at fast succeeded. They had been aifowed by 
Army HQ to “use” 1/9 Gorkhas and 2 Rajput, who 
were being rushed post-haste to the “battlefield” by 
forced marches. 

Miscellaneous sub-units were being directed to join 
7 Brigade. Due to lack of porterage there was a serious 
bottle neck en route and sub-units were arriving with- 
out their equipment and weapons. Even by press- 



EVICT THE CHINESE 


223 


ganging Monpa women and children it was not possible 
for the Civil Administration to find enough load- 
carriers to meet the requirements of the ambitious build- 
up rashly promised by those who had no idea of local 
conditions. The men invariably arrived exhausted. 

Thus was the name and title of 7 Infantry Brigade 
given to the miscellany of troops hurriedly marshalled 
for what was thought would be a limited show of force. 
Having been caught napping Army HQ sought to 
restore the position by collecting the first unfortunate 
units they could lay their hands on. The so-called 
7 Brigade did not have any affiliation, no collective 
training and no time to get to know each other. It 
normally takes months of solid joint training as a 
formation to mould a team, develop mutual trust and 
confidence and to practice battle drills. Three 
battalions grouped together at the eleventh hour do 
not form a fighting brigade. 

I mention this because in his memoirs Gen. Kaul 
has written that “If 7 Brigade was not up to the mark, 
then its own commander -Brigadier Dalvi — should be 
asked to explain”. Since Kaul’s own General Staff 
Branch “created” 7 Brigade after the Chinese incursion, 
the explanation, if any, is due from him. Everybody 
knows that brigadiers do not form their own commands. 
It is the first duty of a commander to ascertain the state 
of his command before launching them into battle. 
It is too late now to find out if the troops we sent to 
evict the Chinese were up to the mark, or not. Kaul 
has been less than fair to the officers and men of 
7 Brigade who never claimed that they were trained 
and ready to engage the superior Chinese force. 

The Gorkhas and the Rajputs fetched up at 
Lumpu by about 26th September. I was supposed to 
give them further orders. I could not do so as I had 
received none myself (other than the unreasonable one 
of evicting the Chinese). When Lt.-Col. M. S. Rikh 
of the Rajputs asked me what I had in mind for Iiis 



224 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


units I told him that there was no definite task for the 
immediate future and that I had first to collate my 
impressions for discussion with the GOG who was 
expected soon. 

Both COs were personal friends and could talk 
to me more freely than they would have done had 
they been shackled by military protocol. They were 
disgusted with the arrangements made for their moves 
and had harrowing tales to tell about conditions on the 
improvised Line of Communication. The move of the 
2nd Rajputs tells its own story. 

The Rajputs had been concentrated at Charduar 
(Assam) in May 1962 after completing a three-year 
operational tenure at Walong in Lohit Frontier Division 
of NEFA. They were earmarked to move to the 
Lorried Brigade of the Armoured Division in Mathura, 
in Uttar Pradesh, in August 1962. In the intervening 
period the Battalion was to train for its new role in “open 
warfare”. Before being relieved the Battalion had been 
ordered to hand over its wireless sets, serviceable 
digging tools, dahs and most other units stores to 
the relieving unit, 6 Kumaon. 

Walong was to be the scene of a major Sino-Indian 
battle in November 1962 and the Rajputs knew every 
inch of ground in that area. Because we refused to 
countenance the possibility of an all-out war we did 
not think in strategic terms. Had we done so, the 
Rajputs would surely have been earmarked if not actually 
sent to Walong. 

On 9th September the GOG had sent for Rikli 
and told him that his Battalion would be moving to 
Towang to “join 7 Brigade”. GOG promised that the 
unit deficiencies would be made up on arrival there. 
At this time the unit could barely muster 550 all ranks. 

The Battalion moved on 10th September in 70 
one-tonners which were shed after three days as they 
could proceed no further due to the state of the road. 
The men had to march from Senge heavily loaded. 



'EVICT THE CHINESE 


225 


As they were not acclimatised to heights many of the 
men vomited blood while climbing Sela Pass and 
others contracted fever. To make matters worse it 
rained heavily throughout and the temperature dropped. 
Clothed in cotton, olive-green summer uniforms, the 
Battalion had to spend many nights in the open under 
improvised shelters made of tarpaulins and ground 
sheets. 

After a day’s rest at Towang the Battalion resumed 
the march to Lumpu where the last man finally clocked 
in on 24th September. It had taken them 15 days 
to reach. The men were exhausted and needed a rest 
before being committed to operations. 

I must pay a tribute to this fine Battalion. Not 
one man fell out. Despite the hardships they were 
cheerful. When I spoke to the Subedar-Major and 
asked him if everything was all right, he gave me this 
proud answer: “Sahib, the Paltan is ready for any task 
that is required of it. The men will be fit in a day 
or so”. 

The story of the Gorkhas was much the same. 
They also had arrived exhausted and with major 
deficiencies as they too had been stripped of their 
equipment. Both the units were not “fit for war” in 
their present state. This then was the “brigade” 
being assembled in the “requisite area” to keep the 
rash promise made at Delhi. 

I recalled the famous words of the Duke of 
Wellington: “I do not know how they will impress 
the enemy, but by God, they frighten me!” I wish the 
Chief or Army Commander had taken time off to 
inspect these units before agreeing to undertake an 
operation against the Chinese. They would have been 
less inclined to compromise or accept a gamble. , 

# One morning I witnessed the unusual sight of 
Rajput squads doing weapon training in the same way 
as they wou!d_ do in a peaceful cantonment in India. 
When I questioned the CO as to what he was doing 



226 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


he told me that he was giving his new recruits instruction 
in priming grenades as they had not been taught to 
do this at the Regimental Centre before being passed 
out. For years the Indian Army had been kept short 
of grenades and the men had not been able to train 
on this basic infantry weapon. These were the men 
who were soon to be ordered to evict the Chinese. 

Commander Artillery 4- Division, Brigadier Kalyan 
Singh, had taken over responsibility for the “defence” of 
Towang (with the 1st Sikhs and one battery of Mountain 
Guns from the original order of battle of 7 Brigade). 
From the very outset there was a divided aim, i.e. to 
defend Towang as well as to challenge the Chinese 
intrusion into the Thagla area. In the event we were 
weak everywhere. There was “a certain woollyness of 
thought and indecision of purpose”. Despite the 
mounting tension there was no strategic plans or 
dispositions throughout the September crisis. 

The Machine-Gun unit commander was in charge 
of trooping arrangements on the Line of Communication 
from Misamari to Towang on an ad-hoc basis. He too 
was employed as a spare body as the poor man could 
not co-ordinate machine-gun fire over 300 miles! 

Supplies for both 7 Brigade and the Towang 
Sector were entirely by air. Lumpu had begun to 
receive air-drops and a skeleton supply arrangement to 
the Punjabis had been organised, with staging posts at 
Serkhim and at the foot of Hathungla Pass. The 
tempo of drops increased gradually and the Punjabis 
were steadily built-up. By the 30th of September 
I was able to provide them with three first lines of 
ammunition and 21 days’ rations. I also sent them all 
the available bedding, clothing and digging tools. We 
did not have the “luxury” items of mines and 'wire, 
elementary in normal defence stores. The Punjabis 
were well dug-in and reasonably well-stocked. They 
were exchanging fire, round for round, with the Chinese 
every day and getting the better of these fire-fights. 



‘EVICT THE CHINESE 


227 


The Chinese had a healthy respect for the entrenched 
Punjabis- It is interesting to note that the Chinese did 
not attack them on the 20th of October. 

9 Punjab were built-up under crippling handicaps. 
After the first exchange of fire, I could not use civil 
porters beyond Serkhim where we had organised a 
transhipment point, under the Rajputs. The Pioneers 
who completed the final carry were not a success because 
they could barely deliver 10 lbs. after allowing for their 
own rations for four days, and other survival loads. 
Their carrying capacity compared unfavourably with 
the locals, not only because the latter were able to 
carry heavier loads but were self-contained in every 
way. Some unscrupulous Pioneers were dumping their 
loads on the way or eating the rations meant for the 
forward troops. In sheer desperation Misra decided 
to collect vital loads -with his own men, all the way to 
the river. It was disgusting to see two sturdy Sikhs 
carrying a live goat. The burden of porterage was a 
serious embarrassment to a battalion which was in 
contact with the enemy, under-strength and responsible 
for its own casualty clearance. We were paying for 
our negligence in not providing for mobility in the 
mountains and the right type of tinned rations. 

Collection of drops was the responsibility of the 
Brigade and 200 men each from the Rajputs and the 
Gorkhas were employed daily on this chore. The 
primitive and improvised set-up made a deep impression 
on Gen. Umrao Singh, the Corps Commander, and was 
the primary reason which emboldened him to defy the 
general clamour for evicting the Chinese, regardless of 
the other factors. He was insistent that we should adhere 
to the basic principles of administration and was emphatic 
that there would be no concentration in the Namka Ghu 
until the necessary administrative stock-piling had been 
achieved. He was deeply affected by the sight of the 
Sikhs carrying goats. 

While the Punjabis were being stocked, we were 



228 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


trying to equip the Rajputs and the Gorkhas to full 
scales of weapons, ammunition, wireless sets, winter 
clothing and other unit stores. These units should 
never have been sent to Lumpu without these basic 
items which could have been provided at a rail or 
roadhead, instead of being despatched by air. For 
days they were merely eating up valuable rations when 
the available airlift could have been used for building 
up reserves. Their precipitate induction, in pursuance 
of a promise to concentrate a brigade in the requisite 
area by a given date, enabled someone in Delhi to 
move yet another little pin-head on a map ; but the batde- 
worthiness of the brigade was limited to pin-pricks. 

I mention these trivia because I wish to emphasise 
that wars are not decided in the corridors of the Central 
Secretariat at Delhi. Wars are not based on wishful 
thinking. Wars are not based on rash promises nor 
improvident expectations. The Himalayan Mountains 
cannot be ignored on the plea of urgent political 
necessity. 

The efforts of the troops were not appreciated. 
The feeling in Delhi was that the forward troops were 
lethargic. Later, Gen. Prasad told me that Gen. Sen 
had said: “If 7 Brigade do not get a move 'on, you 
know what to expect” - the classic alibi for “blaming 
the executors and exonerating the planners”. I shall 
always regret that Gen. Sen had not been able to find 
the time to visit the forward area to see for himself 
whether 7 Brigade was doing its best or whether every- 
body in the rear was doing his best for 7 Brigade. 

* * * 

On the 22nd of September while the Prime 
Minister, Defence Minister and the Finance Minister 
were abroad, the officiating Defence Minister, 
Mr. . Raghuramiah, is said to have held a war-council 
in his office to discuss the Thagla incident. The Army 
Chief estimated that the Clunes e had one battalion 
in the area - one company near Dhola, one company 



'EVICT THE CHINESE 


229 


north-east of Dhola and one company at Thagla Pass. 
He asserted that the Chinese could easily reinforce 
their strength opposite Dhola, retaliate elsewhere in 
NEFA or attack our posts in Ladakh. In spite of this 
it was “decided” by Government that as a matter of 
policy (pressure of public opinion), there was no 
alternative but to evict the Chinese from the Dhola area. 
Gen. Thapar then asked for written, formal orders as 
he was being forced to take action against his better 
judgement and because of the possible consequences of 
any rash action on our part. 

This momentous written order was issued by a 
Joint Secretary, during the absence of the three senior 
members of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, 
apparently after a trans-Atlantic telephone conver- 
sation with Menon. The unbelievable part is that the 
Chief was satisfied with this order and passed it on to 
Gen. Sen. “To be right and overruled is not forgiven 
to persons in responsible positions!” 

Later when the Corps and Divisional Commanders, 
who were fully in the operational picture, protested, 
they were brushed aside and ordered to prepare a plan. 
Up to this stage Gen. Sen appeared to be a malignant 
shadow over the military' horizon. He never visited 
the forward area and merely dug his spurs into the 
unfortunate Umrao and kept urging everyone forward. 
When the stark realities became apparent, Sen was in 
a quandary as he found it difficult to convince Govern- 
ment (through his Chief) to resile from its avowed 
declarations of evicting the Chinese. 

The Government order was soon to be conveyed 
to me by my GOC. This was the point at which the 
“buck stopped”. There was no one I could pass the 
order to. We now had the ludicrous situation where 
pressure of public opinion eventually became the “aim” 
(or mission as the Americans put it) for a military 
appreciation^ by a field commander at brigade level. 
This was indeed a strange manifestation of civil 



230 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


supremacy. The Government of India had decided 
to order the tide back because a mass of uninformed 
public opinion was allegedly ordering it to the brink. 
“Great things are done when men and mountains 
meet: This is not done by jostling in the street”. 
( Gnomic verses.) 

This then was the setting at the time the Army 
was ordered to formulate plans to evict the Chinese at 
the earliest. No responsible Army officer had any 
faith in carrying out the task, or any conception of 
how this task could be achieved. It fell to my lot to 
set out the military arguments relevant to the attain- 
ment of this object. 



Chapter XII 


The Final Appreciation, 23/29 September 1962 

On 23rd September my Brigade Major, Major Khar- 
banda, joined me atLumpu with a skeleton ‘G’stafFand 
a most welcome typewriter. I had not relished the idea 
of preparing comprehensive notes of my reconnaissance 
in longhand and without the help of a staff". I had 
already been separated from my staff for nine critical 
days. 

I was determined to present as objective a military 
picture as I could to my GOG as I thought that my 
views must prevail and have a vital bearing on our 
future policy. The reconnaissance to the Namka Ghu 
had made it abundantly clear that the task of clearing 
out the Chinese was a pipe-dream. I believed that the 
harsh realities of the Thagla confrontation would be 
conclusive and tha't once the magnitude of the task was 
appreciated we would have to modify our national 
policy. It appears that I , miscalculated the political 
imperatives which were to force us into an unequal 
contest with the Chinese. At that time I did not know 
of the various Delhi war-conferences. 

When Gen. Prasad arrived on the 25th he told 
me that he too had been evicted from his HQ, and had 
been ordered to move on foot to Lumpu without waiting 
for a helicopter. The “plan” and “D-Day” for evicting 
the Chinese now dominated all thinking, and Prasad 
must move at once. Prasad was a General of the 
Indian Army and deserved better treatment than this. 
He was entitled to the normal courtesy and consideration 
befitting his rank, age and the state of his health. He 
had contracted some lung ailment just after World 
War II as a result of flying with the Indian Air Force. 



232 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The order to walk was not only improper but cruel to 
boot. He was the second key commander to wander 
in the blue and lose touch with everyone while trekking 
in the Himalayas. I had not spoken to him since the 
13th. I recall this story to highlight the fact that 
political haste invariably infects the military command 
and commanders tend to forget the norms of courtesy 
and decorum. Gen. Prasad’s arrival at Lumpu was 
not a pretty sight. His professional utility was limited 
as he had had no time to visit the Namka Ghu. His 
advice would be confined to accepting or rejecting 
what I told him. 

My Appreciation of September 1962 is a pivotal 
document. It is capable of various interpretations by 
different people. Gen. Kaul has used copious extracts 
to weavfi a claim of reprieval for his impatience and 
haste between 5th and 10th October. He has mani- 
pulated passages to insinuate that he was on occasion 
a helpless spectator of events which had gathered 
momentum before his arrival and which he could 
neither halt nor reverse; and that he was compelled to 
implement the defective plans deviled at the tactical 
level. He has muted his role in moving 7 Brigade to 
the Namka Chu ; and later getting it embroiled with the 
Chinese on 10th October. He omits the antecedents 
of the Appreciation and how it came into being, but 
quotes excerpts to achieve his ends. He has attributed 
some parts to Gen. Umrao and others to the Brigade 
Commander. In one instance he even paraphrases a 
portion and claims it as his own. 

It is pointless to consider any battle planning 
critically without relating it to the precise circumstances 
and conditions prevailing at the time and place. This 
is axiomatic but it is a fact that has been conveniently 
overlooked in certain partisan post-mortems. A com- 
mander’s line of action cannot be properly appraised 
unless set against the background of the exact atmos- 
phere under which he had to function. This was 



THE FINAL APPRECIATION 


233 


especially true of the Thagla episode which to an 
exceptionally high degree was a mass of impossibilities 
which were never allowed to receive consideration due 
to political pressure and a compliant military command. 
Instead of shielding the Army from improper orders, 
Generals used the goad pn their sceptical and reluctant 
subordinates. 

Gen. Sen had told Gen. Umrao that Government 
had taken the “decision” to evict the Chinese and that 
the operation had to be completed at the earliest. Umrao, 
unable to resist this order, had instructed Prasad .to 
produce an outline plan to achieve this aim. Gen. 
Prasad asked me to produce an Appreciation and 
outline plan- Although the Government order was 
unattainable, no one in Delhi had had the courage to 
say so in clear and unmistakable terms. 

In a disciplined Army field commanders do not 
disobey orders, they try their best to implement them. 
It would be an evil day if overt or covert disobedience 
were to be encouraged. All that they can do is. to 
point out the facts and it is for their military superiors 
to advise the political bosses. This is especially true 
when a country is not at war and military action has 
been ordered on the basis of certain political assump- 
tions which local commanders have no grounds to 
challenge. 

For the benefit of the lay reader I shall explain 
the procedure for making an Appreciation. The basis 
of an appreciation is the task given to a commander by 
his superior. It is well to remember that commanders 
do not decide to make appreciations on their own and 
plan attacks or offensives against a foreign country. 
Mr. Menon is right when he avers that such a decision 
can only be taken by Government. It is rather far- 
fetched to insinuate that plans had been drawn up at 
the divisional or brigade level for any form of overt 
action against the Chinese in a hurst of misguided 
enthusiasm. 



234 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The tasks given to Gen. Prasad, GOG of 4 Division, 
were: 

(a) You -will evict the Chinese from the North 
Bank of the Namka Chu. 

(b) You will contain Thagla. 

(c) You will patrol towards Tsangle. 

These were virtually the same tasks that the Chief 
had issued in his earlier signal and which were held in 
abeyance. Despite the changing situation the aims 
remained relentlessly constant, as Government would 
not budge from their declared intention to evict the 
Chinese. Gen. Thapar had washed his hands off the 
messy business by passing on the order to his subordinates 
and considered himself covered by written instructions 
fronf his civilian bosses. This being so he did not 
deem it necessary to convert the Government order 
into a military plan. 

Before ordering a lower formation to undertake a 
task, the next superior is generally expected to carry’ 
out a quick preliminary appreciation to ensure that 
the tasks given are feasible, having regard to the 
resources available and also that they are within the 
bounds of immediate- planning. A good commander 
thinks two down (in die case of a brigade, down to 
companies). This is the real art of generalship as 
generals are not expected to post-office impractical 
orders. Gen. Thapar dispensed with this requirement 
and so did Gen. Sen. 

The next point to bear in mind is that an appre- 
ciation is valid at the time it is written and for as long 
as the military situation remains relatively constant. 
Any subsequent change nullifies an appreciation made 
to cope with a given military, situation. On 22nd 
September, Gen. Thapar estimated the Chinese strength 
in the Thagla area to be a battalion and this "was the 
force which he expected his subordinates to evict. On 
5th October, after Gen. Kaul took over command of the 
NEFA operations, the Chinese strength had increased 



THE FINAL APPRECIATION 


235 


to at least a brigade. This vital change in the relative 
strengths was enough to render the Appreciation 
obsolete. A brigade does not take on a brigade without 
fire support, without a secure Line of Communication 
and without the bare essential administrative build-up. 
Events had superseded earlier plans and hopes. It 
was up to the higher commanders to restore the military 
balance in our favour by positioning the minimum 
superior force to> dislodge the enemy or revoke the 
order. 

Gen. Thapar had not laid down any relevant terms 
of reference for the Appreciation (except for the vague 
political phrase “at the earliest”); nor had he dis- 
seminated any special Intelligence summary giving his 
assessment of the overall Chinese’ intentions, concen- 
trations, dispositions, strength and fire-power. An 
appreciation is not made in a military vacuum; it is a 
process of thought from which is derived the best course 
to achieve the tactical aim. The terms of reference lay 
down the limits within which the commander is expected 
to confine himself. In the absence of any high-level 
Intelligence Appreciation, local commanders had to 
rely on the information obtained from observation and 
what was available from the local Intelligence Bureau 
representative. This is a dangerous basis for plunging 
into a likely battle. The absence of an intelligence 
assessment is the ultimate proof that Thapar had not 
issued a military order. 

The Appreciation was thus in compliance with the 
Chief’s brief orders and was not formulated indepen- 
dently. GOG 4 Division and Commander 7 Brigade 
were in much the same predicament as Gen. Wolfe who 
once said: “In this situation there is such a choice of 
difficulties that I own myself at a loss to determine”. 

The local commanders were under no illusions 
that the task of evicting the Chinese , was militarily 
impossible. The modest plan evolved for tackling the 
Chinese battalion, under duress from the Chief) was in 


236 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


the nature of a police action to herd out intruders; 
and a probe in strength to gauge the Chinese reaction. 
It was never envisaged that 7 Brigade would mount a 
set-piece attack to capture the Chinese positions. 

My first reaction to the GOG’s reguest for assistance 
in the preparation of a formal appreciation, for onward 
transmission to Delhi, for implementing these pre- 
posterous tasks, was to refuse point-blank. I exchanged 
some hot words with Gen. Prasad. Chief or no Chief, 
there was no question of evicting the Chinese. This 
was evident even without going through the drill of 
making a written appreciation, which involves a study 
of the relevant factors; courses open to own troops and 
the enemy; the course adopted with reasons for doing 
so and an outline plan to achieve the aim. 

I had given the GOG the gist of my earlier findings 
and deductions which I had reduced to writing. The 
factors were brutally simple and it did not need a great 
deal of strategical or tactical percipience to deduce that 
it was folly to contemplate any military action to evict 
the Chinese and try to hold vast areas at heights of 
over 15,000 feet, with the Hathungla or Karpola I 
routes for maintenance. If anything, the Chinese 
build-up had made it even more improbable that the 
forces available in Kameng Frontier Division could 
ever evict the Chinese before the weather brought all 
military activity to a halt. 

The GOC was placed in a most unenviable dilemma 
as he had only two alternatives. He could refuse to 
submit an appreciation and expose his superiors; or 
he could resort to covert disobedience by preparing a 
paper hedged with numerous, unattainable provisos in 
the hope that a sane decision would be forced on the 
higher ups. The first alternative was unthinkable in 
the prevailing circumstances. India and China were 
not at war and if the political gamble had come off, 
then all the ‘paper-tacticians’ would have been classified 
as cowards -or worse. Moreover, as Marshal Jofire 



THE FINAL APPRECIATION 


237 


once said: “It was not for the Generalissimo to explain 
but to give orders. It was not for a general to think 
but to carry out orders. Once a general has received 
his orders he should carry them out with a mind at 
rest, knowing it to be his duty”. Only soldiers will 
understand these sentiments. 

Given Hobson’s choice, Gen. Prasad opted for the 
second course and asked me to prepare a first draft 
highlighting the maintenance and administrative prob- 
lems, in addition to the awesome disparities in fire- 
power, so that sobriety would be induced in the planners 
at Delhi. The idea was that we should make it clear 
that even if we had any non-violent success, it would be 
impossible to maintain any troops in the Namka Ghu 
Valley and Thagla Ridge areas. Nothing short of a 
gratuitous Chinese withdrawal would enable us to 
achieve the national aim of clearing the Thagla area. 

I was in the same predicament as the French 
general who said: “I have two stars on my sleeve and 
he has three. How can I argue?” 

The main points of the Appreciation have been 
given in the course of narrating my visit to the Namka 
Chu as also the reasons for not complying with the 
Chief’s order to evict the Chinese. 

Briefly, the Namka Ghu Valley was extremely 
rugged and narrow, with precipitous, thickly-wooded 
slopes. The river was a fast-flowing mountain stream 
and a considerable obstacle (as on 20th September). 
There was no room for manoeuvre. 

Terrain was the determining factor as the Thagla 
Slopes run from West to East. It would be suicidal to 
run the risk of advancing uphill from East to West. 
The approach from Khenzemane to Thagla was 
impassable even to infantry, due to sheer cliffs. 

The central approach from South to North was 
dominated by the Chinese positions at Paitsai, a spur 
which juts out from Thagla and bisects the Ridge. The 
dvancing troops would come under cross-fire while 



238 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


negotiating the steep inclines and we had no artillery 
to neutralise them. Militarily the only possible approach 
was from the western end, via Tsangle, and the Chinese 
knew this. 

Approach and maintenance routes to the river 
were long and tenuous. To avoid observation and 
interference from the Chinese, it would be more 
advisable to use the Karpola I route as the Hathungla 
approach ran parallel to the Chinese positions opposite 
Bridges I to IV. At that time I did not know that there 
was no direct route along the Namka Chu Valley and 
that a detour via Tsangdhar was necessary to avoid the 
numerous, impassable buffs. 

Relative strengths and capability to achieve a 
faster rate of build-up were vital factors. The outline 
plan was based on the presumption (foolish?) that the 
Chinese strength would remain constant at one battalion. 
We could not hope to match the Chinese in a race to 
build-up the forces in the Namka Chu. 

It was stipulated that the minimum artillery require- 
ments should be provided before moving into the 
Thagla Ridge area. We well knew that no artillery 
pieces other than the outranged para-field guns could 
be made available to us. 

The time and space factors were set out in some 
detail as they ' would appear incredible to the planners 
in Delhi. Purely for the approach march we had 
allowed a minimum of ten days. As the snows were 
likely to set in by the end of October, the stipulated 
stock-piling would have to be achieved within a fort- 
night, failing which there would he no hope of under- 
taking any action before April 1963. 

Security and surprise were considered essential. It 
was laid down that there was to be no movement 
except for controlled reconnaissances, on the North 
Bank of the Namka Chu, especially at the western end, 
to find crossing places and suitable routes and assembly 
areas. These reconnaissances were mandatory before 



the final appreciation 


239 


committing a large force to unknown ground and against 
an unknown enemy. As we did not have the troops 
for any diversionary tactics to bemuse the enemy, the 
only course open was to adopt a circuitous route. This 
deduction also led me to suggest the western approach. 

Security was deliberately compromised before Gen. 
Kaul took over. Our patrolling programme started on 
29th September and Tsangle was the first area to be 
reconnoitred. 

As soon as the first patrol report was received in 
Delhi, I was ordered to hold Tsangle without being 
assigned any rationale for tills task. Gen. Umrao 
protested that “Tsangle was not a good place to hold 
tactically as it would give away our plans to the 
Chinese”. He was promptly overruled. Unfortunately 
the Chinese were soon alerted and sent troops to contain 
our picquet. There was never thereafter any possibility 
of moving unopposed to our objectives. The Chinese 
could bar our way and we faced the certainty of a 
pitched battle for our first bound, which is in fact what 
happened. The third major proviso of the plan was 
consequently altered by an unfortunate order from 
Delhi. - ■ 

There were many other prerequisites, viz. casualty 
evacuation by helicopters, the requirement of porters 
for the carry from Tsangdhar to Tsangle and forward, 
the equipping of units before any forward movement 
and the imperative need to acclimatise the troops before 
attempting the Karpola I crossing and so on. It was 
'laid down mat a minimum ot three hrst Tines of 
ammunition and 30 days* rations would have to be 
dropped and stocked at Tsangdhar before the rest of 
the Brigade was allowed to venture into the Namka 
Chu Valley. (These scales were later reduced to seven 
days’ rations and three first lines.) 

Provided all. the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts* materialised then 
the following limited action might be possible: 
(a) attempt an outflanking move from Bridge V at the 



240 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


western end of the Valley; (6) the move to be in three 
stages, i.e. Lumpu to Tsangdhar via Karpola I; 
Tsangdhar to Muksar and Muksar to Tseng Jong. 
Subsequent operations would depend on the Chinese 
reaction to our moves. No advance attack plans 
could be drawn up sitting in Lumpu. These would 
be decided only after the nature and scope of the 
Chinese counter-moves became clear. Our aim would 
be to roll down from Tseng Jong to the Chinese 
positions. 

Even so the plan was not really a military one as it 
did not cater for any Chinese retaliatory action. It was 
more in the nature of a police action to herd out an 
unruly crowd. It was certainly not a rigid and in- 
flexible course which could not be halted. There 
was no timed collaboration or co-ordination with other 
formations. The moves were for an independent 
formation undertaking a lone task and could readily 
be postponed, modified or even scrapped. 

The Appreciation was the last exposition of the 
purely military problems posed by Government’s order 
to evict the Chinese. It also contained the observations 
and conclusions of the only senior commander who 
had seen the Thagla area to date. Eventually the 
Appreciation was the joint handiwork of the Corps, 
Divisional and Brigade Commanders. The difficulties 
were brushed aside and the requirements were not 
made available. All that was extracted was the plan 
to evict the Chinese! This battered and moth-eaten 
Appreciation has been exhumed by Gen. Kaul, as we 
shall see, to exonerate himself for the defeat of 7 Brigade. 
* * *• * 

Gen. Prasad approved the draft Appreciation on 
26th September after some discussion and after in- 
corporating some alterations. He discussed it with 
Gen. Umrao, who came to Lumpu on 26th September. 
Umrao demurred at the first draft he was shown on 
the grounds that it was too ambitious. He wanted us 



THE FINAL APPRECIATION 


241 


to cater for more fire-power and a bigger administrative 
build-up. He* objected to our ’ attempt to lay down 
firm dates. He also insisted on a more ntodcst tactical 
plan. ' • ' • *> ’i f 

' He accepted the revised draft. For the second 
time in 16- days, Gen . Um'rao counselled prudence. 

' Gen.*' Umrao left for Lucknow on’ the 29th to 
apprise Gen. Sen of the numerous difficulties. He told 
us that he would insist oh the irreducible minimum build- 
up before 1 venturing into the Chinaman’s den. He 
would also try' to convince the Army' Commander of 
the impossibility of evicting the ’Ciiinesc without a 
massive build-up ' which was unlikely to materialise 
before 1st April 1963, if ever. He warned us not to 
expect too much from his visit as everyone was im- 
patiently waiting for D-Day. His Brigadier General 
Staff left armed with the facts and figures. 

Gen. Umrao Singh gave clear orders that there 
was to be no further concentration of troops forward 
of Lumpu till the bare minimum stock-piling at 
Tsangdhar had been achieved. He promised to pay 
us a second visit at the first opportunity'. 

Before taking off, Umrao sent for the COs of the 
Rajputs and the Gorkhas to wish them good-bye. 
Later one of them described the scene in these words: 
“When wc met the Corps Commander we both felt 
as if he was saying good-bye to two gladiators about to 
enter the arena never to come out alive. We bodi 
assured the Corps Commander that whatever we were 
called upon to do we would do in the highest traditions 
of the Army. All we requested was a fair chance of 
survival and success for the men, and the minimum 
amount of warm clothing, supplies and ammunition”. 

I do not know what transpired at Lucknow but 
I do know that Umrao protested in writing to the Army 
Commander on the 30th of September. Obviously he 
had been unable to influence Gen. Sen to reverse the 
thinking at the highest levels and was forced to 



242 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


record his formal disagreement with the way operations 
were being hustled. Umrao refused to be “as a dog 
in obedience; and a lion in action’*. 

Thus by the end of September there was clearly a 
serious divergence of opinion between the policy- 
makers in Delhi and the local formation Commanders. 
There was a rift between the “Brass” and the “Boots”. 
Only drastic action could now resolve the stalemate if 
the relentless decision to evict the Chinese was still to 
be pursued. Government’s only trump card was to 
change the dissident senior commander and replace 
him with someone who would accept responsibility for 
the venture. Who would accept the thankless and 
hopeless task? 



Chapter XIII 


Nehru Takes Over — 2nd October 1962 

After the contretemps between Generals Sen and 
Umrao there was the usual flurry of conferences and 
meetings at Delhi - India’s panacea for solving her 
problems. Menon had returned from New York on 
the 30th of September and Nehru from Lagos, Nigeria 
on the 2nd of October. At last, the right people began 
manning the right action stations. Hitherto the higher 
direction of war was in the hands of a Deputy Minister 
whose normal functions were in the sphere of defence 
production and not operations. 

The politico-military situation had, from Nehru’s 
point of view, reached a climax. Goaded by a relentless 
Opposition for positive action and exasperated by 
Chinese intrusions, Nehru decided to retaliate without 
quite understanding what this meant in military terms. 
So far his only link with the gathering storm in the 
Himalayan border had been by telephone and telegrams 
and one casual meeting with Menon in London. Menon 
and his fire-eating civilians had given him a few hints 
that the time had come to halt further Chinese intrusions 
and had painted a rosy picture of our chances of 
succeeding. The Army Brass had made one or two 
mild protests but then Gen. Thapar did not have the 
force of character to influence the impulsive Prime 
Minister or the domineering Defence Minister. In 
1962 only Kaul’s advice mattered. Within a day of 
Nehru’s return Kaul is recalled from leave. The 
destiny of India was now in his hands. 

Undoubtedly influenced by Umrao’s realism, Gen. 
Sen did not now exude any great deal of confidence 
or bellicosity. On 2nd October he told the Defence 
Minister that the Chinese now had a battalion at 



246 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Thagla and confirmed that three of our battalions had 
concentrated in the forward area. Sen also told the 
Minister that his logistic build-up might not be completed 
by the 10th of October. This was clearly on Umrao’s 
calculations as Sen had little first-hand knowledge of 
what was happening in the realm of ‘building-up 1 
beyond receiving optimistic figures of air despatches to 
the forward areas. 

Gen. Sen is also reported to have pointed out that, 
“This was the first time we were going to use force 
against the Chinese, though for good reasons (as against 
walking into a vacuum, without opposition, a practice 
followed by us so far), and that this was bound to have 
serious repercussions”. 

Menon’s response to these gloomy forebodings was 
to issue a characteristic edict: “The Government policy 
is to make an impact (sic) on the Chinese in NEFA 
before they settled down for the winter”. It is reason- 
able to assume that Sen used Umrao’s appreciation as 
the guide-line for the advice which he rendered to his 
Chief and the Defence Minister. If he did not then 
he was guilty of an omission, which could have far- 
reaching consequences. If Sen agreed with Umrao, 
as seems more than probable, then Menon exceeded 
his authority in continuing to talk vaguely of making 
an impact. Nehru was still abroad and the Defence 
Committee of the Cabinet could have had no hand in 
such an eventful decision. In any case Government 
policy needs to be spelt out in more explicit terms as 
it is not easy to translate “making an impact” into a 
workable military operation order. It is even more 
difficult when the forward commanders keep insisting 
that the tasks are beyond their means. All that can 
be done is to refurbish and re-issue the same old slogan 
“Evict the Chinese”. 

Mr. Nehru is said to have held a meeting with 
Generals Thapar and Sen and found them hesitant and 
reluctant. The time had come to apply some soothing 



NEHRU TAKES OVER 


247 


balm to die timid Generals and doubting Thomases. 
He told them that “he had good reasons to believe that 
the Chinese would not take any strong action against 
us”. Was this Marshal Chen Yi’s assurance in Geneva 
reaping its reward for China? or did Nehru still live 
in blissful hopes of localising the Thagla dispute? 
Would any nation defy world opinion and attack the 
Apostle of Peace? In any case such a briefing if true 
could hardly generate a martial spirit. It also consigned 
military considerations to the waste-paper basket. 
Armed with political optimism, we persisted with un- 
attainable military targets, this time with the Prime 
Minister’s imprimatur. The ‘unbelievers’ were silenced 
with assurances of Chinese good behaviour. “Don’t be 
silly, the Chinese won’t do anything” was the soporific 
catch-phrase that was administered every time a 
military objection was raised. 

Even if we were compelled to display resolution 
we should have adhered to acknowledged principles of 
war and canons of military strategy. There was no 
need to fall helplessly into the Chinese trap against 
frightful odds. 

Government resumed its “decision-making” role. 
The first decision was to ‘create’ a corps and to appoint 
Kaul as its commander. The tempo mounted. The 
Government’s publicity machine swung into action. 
Kaul was given the majestic task of “evicting the Chinese, 
from the Thagla area”. Mr. Nehru undoubtedly had 
a hand in, if he did not actually decree, this change of 
command in mid-stream. 

Kaul resumes duty and tries to catch up with 
events. He is briefed by the Officiating Chief of the 
General Staff, Major-General Joginder Singh Dhillon. 
We do not know what Dhillon told him. We can only 
assume that Kaul was given a thorough and lucid 
background of events to date. Dhillon must surely 
have explained the reasons for the delay in implementing 
Government’s order to evict the Chinese. Government 



248 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


had been pressing the Army from 13th September. 
Dhillon may or may not have shown Kaul the two 
letters written by Umrao Singh on 12th and 30th 
September. All that we know is what Kaul had said: 
“Major-General Dhillon recounted to me what had 
happened during my absence in the last few weeks'’. 
This cryptic sentence conceals as much, if not more, 
than it reveals. 

Predictably, Kaul is invited by Nehru on 3rd 
October and told, “We must contest by whatever 
means at our disposal. He (Nehru) therefore hoped 
that the Chinese would see reason and withdraw from 
Dhola but in case they did not, we would have to 
expel them from our territory or at least try to do so to 
the best of our ability. If we failed to take such action 
Government would forfeit public confidence com- 
pletely”. 

Mr. Nehru’s short-sightedness and negligence with 
regard to China is remarkable when judged against 
his far-sightedness in world affairs. It seems incredible 
that as late as 3rd October, when the military odds 
had been calculated, he was motivated by the possibility 
of loss of confidence in the Government whose omissions 
had been ruthlessly exposed by the Chinese aggression. 
The military defeat, and its sad aftermath, were in- 
finitely greater disasters to the nation than the fortunes 
of Government or its principal members. Nehru’s basis 
for accepting » military adventure, led by Kaul, was 
not in the National interest; it was the reasoning of a 
politician looking to his own and his Party’s future. 
It was unworthy of a man of Nehru’s stature. In the 
words of Alfred Vagts in his book. The History of Mili- 
tarism, “Again and again, military men have seen them- 
selves hurled into war by the ambitions, passions and 
blunders of civilian governments, almost wholly un- 
informed as to the limits of their military potentials 
and almost recklessly indifferent to the military require- 
ments of the wars they let loose”. 



NEHRU TAKES OVER 


249 


When the inevitable disaster came Nehru did not 
even have the grace or courage to admit his errors or 
seek a fresh mandate from the people. He did not even 
go through the motion of resigning; he merely presented 
his trusted colleagues and military appointees as 
sacrificial offerings. This was a great disappointment 
to his many admirers all over the world. President 
Nasser, who is not overly devoted to parliamentary 
democracy, made a more gracious and democratic 
gesture after the crushing Egyptian defeat at the hands 
of the Israelis, in June 1967. He accepted the blame 
and remained in power only when he was given a fresh 
mandate from his people. 

* * * 

The abrupt dismissal of Gen. Umrao Singh was a 
pivotal decision. Many devious arguments have been 
adduced to explain the overnight change in the command 
structure but none of them have the ring of truth. 
This, the most serious blunder on the part of the Govern- 
ment and the Army Chief, cannot be buried under a 
heap of unconvincing administrative reasons. The 
biggest ‘if* of the NEFA War of 1962 must surely be 
whether there would have been an actual shooting 
war if Kaul had not been nominated to command, with 
a personal mandate from the Prime Minister. The 
impossible task, blithely offered to Kaul, was merrily 
accepted by him. 

When Kaul accepted the assignment he knew that 
his so-called corps was a political gimmick in so far as 
his force bore no relation whatsoever to a corps as this 
term is commonly understood in modern armies. He 
had nothing but the two committed brigades - 5 and 
7 Brigades. . Kaul’s own reasons for allowing himself 
to be associated with Government’s final desperate 
gamble, in the face of the known odds, are: “. . .1 was 
thus expected to perform a miracle and begin operations 
immediately. I could hardly start bickering (sic) about 
the obvious handicaps at a time when India found 



250 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


herself in a precarious situation and therefore decided 
to cross my fingers, make the best of my lean resources 
(one brigade) and face the situation as best I could”. 
To achieve success against the Chinese, under the 
prevailing disparities, any commander would need 
more militarily sound miracles than crossed fingers and 
patriotic resolutions. At that stage Ground, Relative 
Strengths and Administration were not matters of 
bickering - they were overwhelmingly decisive. They 
could only be ignored at the risk of certain disaster. 
If Gen. Kaul intended to take a calculated risk in 
ignoring these time-honoured principles then there is 
little point in shifting the blame of the subsequent 
failure to the Army as a whole. He tried to do what 
others opined could not be done. He replaced Umrao 
who believed in “bickering” when his professional 
conscience told him to do so. Why was Umrao sacked? 

One reason which has been suggested by Kaul is 
because of Umrao’s differences with Gen. Sen, his 
immediate boss: “Gen. Thapar and Lt.-Gen. Sen 
decided to replace Umrao Singh as the latter and 
Lt.-Gen. Sen were not getting on well together”. Un- 
fortunately we arc not told whether tliis move had the 
blessings of the Prime Minister or Defence Minister 
without whose approval such replacements cannot take 
place. In Menon’s era this right was a jealously guarded 
prerogative of “Government”. So the nagging question 
remains unanswered; was Umrao sacked before the 
decision to appoint Kaul or was Umrao removed to 
make room for Kaul? The picture between the 30th 
of September and the 2nd of October is blurred. 

If Gen. Sen removed Umrao on grounds of pro- 
fessional incompetence then he should have been made 
to relinquish command of XXXIII Corps. Discredited 
Corps Commanders do not retain their ranks and 
appointments. 

It has also been insinuated that the burden of 
commanding Assam, Nagaland and NEFA was too 



NEHRU TAKES OVER 


251 


heavy for one commander. Kaul says, “Umrao had 
been dealing with NEFA so far. The territories under 
him were too vast when judged in relation to his 
resources”. This is perhaps the most unconvincing 
argument of all. Kaul was the Chief of the General 
Staff and it was his duty to allocate the required 
resources to field formations. The paucity of resources 
was not a sudden revelation. Kaul himself had come 
without any resources other than his person and 
assorted staff officers who had been hurriedly corralled 
between midnight and dawn of the 3rd/4th October. 
He too would soon be a parasite and feed off Umrao’s 
slender “resources”. In any case the solution obviously 
lay in appointing another commander for the Assam 
and Nagaland sectors and freeing Umrao to concen- 
trate on the NEFA operations with which he was 
familiar. Would Government have removed Umrao 
if he had agreed to have a crack at the Chinese without 
harping on military prudence? 

The last puzzling question is why Government did 
not appoint Kaul to command XXXIII Corps and 
create a phantom corps for the dormant Assam and 
Nagaland Sectors. XXXIII Corps was a running 
organisation, had a tuned up staff under an extremely 
capable Brigadier and the necessary corps troops for 
the maintenance of troops in combat. 

The unavoidable conclusion is that Delhi was 
afraid of making an issue of removing Umrao lest the 
truth about the divergence of opinions within the Army 
and with the politicians leaked out, thereby shattering 
the morale of the nation. Umrao insisted on more 
time and this was the one commodity Government did 
not have. The Indian public was breathing down its 
neck. There is no other explanation for the Prime 
Minister’s personal intervention in the selection of a 
“corps commander” to command one brigade to evict 
an allegedly small, non-violent, intruding Chinese 
Force. Kaul was no ordinary General to be wasted 



252 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


on a minor assignment. I remain convinced to this 
day that Umrao was placed on the side-line ungrace- 
fully because he refused to collaborate with those who 
insisted on steering a collision course to the Chinese on 
the Thagla Ridge. Someone who would play the 
politicians’ game was urgently needed and Kaul was 
the obvious choice as the pro-consul. He was the 
principal military advocate of the Forward Policy wliich 
others had resisted. When called by Government Kaul 
could not very well refuse to practice his theory' of 
“positional warfare” and vindicate his strategy. 

We became the laughing stock of tire world when 
it became known that Kaul had no corps to command. 
The Chinese seized upon our premature disclosure of a 
“task force”, as well as the uninformed jubilation in 
the Indian Press about an impending offensive, to tell 
the world that we had prepared for years for such an 
operation. We paid for ignoring the old Japanese 
saying that countries should “wage war silently and 
anonymously”. It was difficult even for our friends to 
believe our professions of peace and that the Chinese 
attacked us treacherously when we ourselves announced 
to the world that we were determined to evict the 
Chinese (albeit from what wc claimed was our terri- 
tory) and had selected India’s outstanding General to 
do so. Those responsible did India irreparable harm 
and a great disservice. History cannot be kind to them. 

Before Gen. Umrao leaves the stage I would like 
to pay a tribute to a General whose role in the 
Thagla Affair has received but scant attention from 
observers and analysts of the Indian defeat. His wise 
counsel and military advice were ignored from the 
very inception of the tragic affair. His measured 
advice remained unheeded to the end. 

Gen. Umrao is a tall, handsome man with an imposing 
personality. He hails from a famous Rajput family of 
Jaipur, in fabled Rajasthan — the home of generations 
of warriors. When I first met him during these 



NEiraU TAKES OVER! 


253 


operations, ! found him calm«and unruffled.. His very 
presence was reassuring. He. Jived in terms of open 
hostility with Gen. Sen and consequently worked under 
severe pressure. He had had a , hard time, trying to 
resist; the (impracticable tasks yvhich were being foisted 
on the troops. ) He. was subjected to unjust criticism 
for the alleged r tardiness of his command and his failure 
to “evict' the Chinese”.' Despite this he remained 
ccildly analytical of the military' tasks given him. He 
resolutely refused to get involved. in the political aspects 
or. to allow, himself) to be pressurised into unsound 
measures to pacify .the politicians.. He gave his opinions 
fearlessly and effectively. He was one of the few senior 
actors in the Thagla drama who had the moral courage 
to record his views in writing. He proved too out- 
spoken and had to be eliminated before the powers- 
that-be could complete their self-destroying policy. 

In the best traditions of the warrior race from which 
he sprang, Umrao Singh remained conscious through- 
out of the men he commanded. He made one state- 
ment which I shall always remember. In discussing 
the first draft of the Appreciation, he clearly foresaw 
that there was a likelihood of a major clash without the 
slightest chance of achieving our national or tactical 
aims. He said: “This is all very well for you chaps; 
you will get decorated, but what about the men who 
will have to sacrifice their lives senselessly? Now be 
sensible and produce a plan that has a faint hope of 
success — even if we have to stall for six months”. 
Umrao subconsciously echoed the famous words of 
Field-Marshal Auchinlcck who once said, “Are the 
chaps who are going to attack going to have a reason- 
able chance — if not, you arc just murdering them”. 

He sympathised with us in the difficult predica- 
ment in which we had been placed by the unreasonable 
orders to throw out the Chinese. He did his best to 
shield us, and in so doing he displayed all the qualities 
required of a commander in the Yield, the foremost 



254 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


being moral courage. He was the one senior officer 
whom I met who kept his head, poise and mental 
balance throughout the bitter days of September 1962. 

The Indian people might have been saved much 
humiliation if the authorities had relied on his advice. 
Like many a fine soldier before him he paid the supreme 
price for his forthrightness. He was subjected to the 
most dreaded punishment of all - summary removal. In 
the words of the great Duke of Marlborough : “To 
relieve a general in the midst of a campaign, that is 
the mortal stroke”. Those responsible for engineering 
and delivering the “stroke” are thrice guilty. 



Chapter XIV 


1 A Soldier Uninhibited 

With the appointment ofKaul the Thagla Operation 
entered the third and decisive phase. 

Gen. Kaul i arrived at Tezpur on 4th October and 
amazingly was received at the airport by his Army 
Commander — an extraordinary' reversal of military 
protocol. The armies of the world are usually very 
fussy about such matters. This is not intended to be a 
petty barb. It is to illustrate Kaul’s power and 
prestige - material factors which were to gravely in- 
fluence the course of events in the succeeding days. 
Anyone exercising authority beyond his rank is bound 
to stifle disagreement, discourage frank discussions and 
brow-beat subordinates. 

The operational situation at Tezpur on 4th October 
was that there was a deadlock between Sen and Umrao. 
Gen. Sen was in a quandary. His immediate sub- 
ordinate was adamant. His logistical build-up was 
behind schedule. He had no hope of achieving his 
targets even by 10th October, if ever. He was appre- 
hensive of the Chinese reaction to any overt military 
move on our part. It has been said that he had had 
to change the promised dates for evicting the Chinese 
and had incurred the displeasure of the Government. 
Gen. Sen was rescued from his predicament by the 
arrival ofKaul. The heavy' burden of reconciling the 
formidable problems posed by the Himalayas, the 
objections of his forward commanders and an insistent 
Government was taken off his weary shoulders. 

Kaul .was in personal command of 7 Infantry 
Brigade. We now had one Gen., two Lt.-Gens., one 
•Maj.-Gen. and one Brigadier to’ preside over , the 
activities of this ill-starred formation. Wc had flve 



256 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


sabres in one scabbard - a suicidal command arrange- 
ment which ultimately produced utter confusion during 
the operations and excuses after our defeat. 

Some of these officers have since been accused of 
direct interference and ordering the moves of units and 
sub-units and they have reacted violently to these 
strictures. If they were not commanding 7 Brigade 
then it is permissible to ask what were they commanding. 
They were certainly not confining themselves to high 
level strategic planning or providing the required 
logistic cover. All that these generals were doing was 
to improvidently hound, harry and hustle this one 
formation to achieve the unattainable, 

Gens. Sen, Kaul and Umrao spent the 4th together. 
Kaul tells us, “I had a meeting with Lt.-Gens. Sen and 
Umrao soon after my arrival at Tczpur. I heard from 
them what had been done to concentrate 7 Infantry 
Brigade in the Dhola area. Lt.-Gen. Sen had said in 
the Defence Minister’s meeting at Delhi that three of 
our battalions had been concentrated by the 29th, in 
the forward area. Actually even on 4th October, only 
one battalion and a bit more were in Dhola, most of 
the others still being in Lumpu which is 15 miles west of 
Dhola. The logistical build-up was far behind schedule 
because of lack of porters, the only means of transporta- 
tion at those heights. We had grave deficiencies in the 
strength of porters. I commandeered about a thousand 
from the Border Roads Organisation and informed 
Government accordingly. I took other similar steps 
as -a result of which I hoped that 7 Brigade would be 
concentrated in tile Dhola area by 9th October”. 

Since there was no overall strategic concept, the 
second 1 brigade at Walong did not concern 'Kaul 
immediately. He has since admitted as much when he 
says, “Lastly, since our Government was determined to 
expel the Chinese from the 'Dhola-Thagla area, where 
they had aggressed, the question of fighting them else- 
where did not arise”. 1 ■ > ’ ’ 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


257 


Unfortunately this very cursory record of the 
handing and taking over of an impending clash of arms 
is insufficient. We are not told why the move of 
7 Brigade should be accelerated, as operational moves 
do not just happen ; there must be an executive order. 
What was this plan of operations ? Did Gen. Sen issue 
any formal orders to his subordinate, Kaul? _ It would 
have been normal to do so, as the Prime Minister’s and 
Defence Minister’s general directives had to be re- 
interpreted in military terms. If Sen did not issue any 
orders, then are we at liberty to assume that Kaul did 
not require any from his military superior? It is no 
wonder that ever since 1962, Gen. Sen has steadfastly 
maintained that with the arrival of Kaul he had no 
further hand in the sordid NEFA Affair. 

We are not told whether Umrao’s assessment of 
the task figured in the discussions and whether Kaul 
agreed or disagreed with it. This is important to 
pin-point the author of the orders which were supposed 
to have been operative on the date Kaul assumed 
command, especially the order that required 7 Brigade 
to reach the Namka Chu by 9th October. 

All that emerges from the 4th October meeting is 
an investigation as to what progress had been made 
“to concentrate 7 Brigade in the Dhola area”. 

After the Thagla fiasco, Kaul has sheltered behind 
the so-called plans that were supposed to have been 
drawn up before he assumed command. If he felt 
that he had inherited any flexible or unalterable plans, 
then it 'was his bounden duty to have disclosed what 
these were and whether he discussed them with Sen 
and Umrao at Tezpur on 4th October; and later with 
GOG 4 Division and Commander 7 Infantry Brigade 
at a formal co-ordinating conference. This is routine 
procedure in the Army. Kaul "was not sent by the 
Prime Minister of his country to supervise an operation 
for which others had already done the planning. From 
4th October onwards it was his responsibility to assume 



258 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


charge of events and arrive at his o^vn operational 
conclusions. As Field-Marshal Von Manstcin has said: 
“The basic concept of a campaign plan should be 
born in the mind of the man who has to direct that 
campaign”. If Kaul accepted the plans of others then 
they became Ills own. A post-mortem docs not permit 
a plea of previous plans which were defective and which 
betrayed the General in actual command at the time 
of their implementation. 

On 4th October Kaul should have known that 
Umrao had represented to Gen. Sen, the following facts: 

(а) “Before the operation could be launched, 
580 tons of ammunition and stores be stocked 
at Tsangdhar which must be accepted as the 
main dropping zone for the offensive operations. 

(б) The Namka Chu Valley is extremely rugged 
and narrow, with thickly wooded and preci- 
pitous slopes. The river is a considerable 
obstacle. Room for manoeuvre is extremely 
limited. This makes a direct assault on Thagla 
suicidal, 

(c) Our non-combatant pioneers have proved 
useless. 

(d) Tlie total number of civilian porters available 
(far behind Dhola) is three to five hundred 
which is quite inadequate for our requirement. 
It is just not possible to stock Tsangdhar from 
Lumpu by the land route”. 

This extract (since quoted by Kaul) is a verbatim 
transcription of what I had written in the Appreciation 
of 28th September. 

To add melodrama to a situation that Kaul never 
imagined would be anything more than “a clash of 
wills” he says that he, after hearing the difficulties from 
Umrao, decided to accelerate the concentration for 
the following reasons: 

(c) If we had to expel the Chinese from our 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


259 


territory near Dhola, despite our many dis- 
parity i, our concentration there should take 
place' quicker than that of the enemy. 

(6) If \v ,: went on delaying to concentrate in the 
reqi ^ite area, it would soon start snowing 
in Uhola and the weather would then jeopar- 
dise our proposed operation. 

It is p< hnissible to infer that Kaul, having heard 
Umrao, deided to ignore the “difficulties”, use some 
Irish logic and persist in his attempt to evict the Chinese. 

Let us first analyse KauVs reasons for moving 
7 Brigade to the Namka Chu despite “our many dis- 
parities”. Can we seriously believe these after-thoughts ? 
The Chinese had, on 4th/5th October, already located 
a well-prepared, well-stocked, well entrenched and well- 
supported brigade in the Thagla area. They had 
infinitely better road communications and transport 
of all categories that gave them easy access to Thagla. 

On our side we had literally nothing. How then 
did Kaul hope to achieve a “quicker” build-up, under 
these disparities ? If a large build-up had been possible, 
would not Gens. Sen and Umrao have achieved more, 
even before Kaul’s arrival? They were after all under 
Government orders to evict the Chinese since 13th 
September. 

The possibility of snows retarding operations can 
be dismissed briefly. Umrao had highlighted that if 
our stipulated build-up of 580 tons was not made avail- 
able, with the required porterage, before the snows set 
in, then the operation would have to be postponed till 
the spring of 1963. If the snows came, the operation 
would not only be jeopardised, it would be doomed. 
Did Kaul intend to slap the Chinese, dust their hands, 
and return to Lumpu before the snows threatened his 
stay in the Namku Chu Valley? 

The reasons given for the precipitate move to the 
Namka Chu are not convincing, if treated as a purely 
military affair. The manner in which the move was 



260 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


ordered clearly indicates that the predominant political 
factors had steam-rollered the military difficulties. 
Kaul had the Prime Minister’s appeal to do something 
to prevent the Government forfeiting public confidence. 
There was Nehru’s assurance that the Chinese would 
not take any strong action against us. It is for these 
reasons that Kaul pushed everyone to the Namka Chu. 
That is why he took steps to concentrate 7 Brigade by 
9th October, regardless. 

Gen. Kaul would have been truer to himself, and 
would have helped the Indian people to understand the 
NEFA Reverses if he had admitted, in the first place, 
that he did not expect “a swift and catastrophic retri- 
bution” {to use his own phrase). 

* * * 

While the “big three” were holding a summit at 
Tezpur, Gen. Prasad visited me at Lumpu at 9.30 a.m. 
on the 4th of October. We had been waiting anxiously 
for him to give us the latest news. The silence from 
29th September onwards was nerve-racking. I im- 
mediately asked him what had happened to our 
Appreciation. He gave me this astounding answer: 
“Look old boy, no one is interested in your bloody 
appreciation. ‘They’ are only interested in your D-Day 
for evicting the Chinese”. He then stressed that the 
operation had to be mounted immediately for political 
reasons, whatever the consequences. 

He then gave me the disquieting news that Gen. 
Kaul had been appointed GOC of a “new” corps to 
“speed up operations”. I asked him which corps he 
was referring to as there was no corps within a thousand 
miles of NEFA. Prasad said that he had no other 
information than that Kaul was now Commander of 
“IV” Corps. Everybody knows that a corps cannot be 
made to materialise with a magic wand. The news 
was very disturbing as there was an obvious non-military 
angle to this development. What other rational ex- 
planation was there for this dramatic but pointless 



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261 


change of commanders in the midst of planning? We 
needed more tools not brains. The awful implication, 
that Umrao had forfeited the confidence of Government, 
dawned on me at once. We had great faith in Umrao 
not only because he knew the local military situation 
but also because he had the strength of character to 
stand up to brow-beating. 

After giving me the news of Kaul’s appointment 
and the rejection of our Appreciation, the GOC ordered 
me to leave ‘at once’ for the Namka Chu. He said 
that Kaul would be furious if he found me at Lumpu ; 
but he could not tell me why anyone should be 
interested in my personal location. I was constrained 
to point out that I had not yet been given any orders 
which would have suggested the best place for my HQ, 
or myself. I told him that there was little dignity in 
senior officers scurrying away like thieves in the night. 
Who were we afraid of, the Chinese or our own 
superior commanders? I told him that the time was 
9.30 a.m. and too late to start and complete a day’s 
march. In spite of this he begged me to leave at once 
and take shelter in the nearest herder’s hut: all that 
mattered was that he should be in a position to say 
that the commander had gone “forward”. “To hell 
with appreciations - to hell with porters -to hell with 
everything -just move to Dhola”. Further orders 
would be issued later. 

I called my COs and staff and gave them a gist 
of what the GOC had told me. The news was received 
with great misgivings as it seemed to presage something 
sinister and there was no longer any hope of talking 
in purely military terms. Prasad’s order to hurry 
away was a clear indication that political opportunism 
would be the key-note of future action. 

My Order Group and I left Lumpu for Dhola at 
about 11.30 a ; m. on 4th October. I was smarting 
under the humiliation of having been evicted from my 
HQ,, for the second time, without being assigned a 



262 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


reason or a task. There is nothing more degrading 
than this. I hope that never again will any senior 
Indian Army officer be called upon to suffer such an 
indignity. I was also depressed after my weird con- 
versation -with the GOC. What was the earthly use of 
making appreciations if they were just thrown away 
and the forward troops ordered to move “forward”. 
What more can a commander do? 

We camped at a herder’s hut some two miles from 
Lumpu ! 

* * * 

5th October 1962 is a critical day in the history of 
the Thagla Affair. It was the day on which Kaul moved 
my Brigade personally, without consulting Gen. Prasad 
or me. It was to prove the point of no return. Although 
I heard only later that Kaul had moved my Brigade, 
I shall narrate the manner in which he did so at this 
stage, in order to link Kaul’s appointment with the 
dramatic acceleration of military activity. 

Kaul had planned to meet me at Dhola on 7th 
October, to discuss operational plans and yet did not 
deem it proper to wait until then and avail himself of 
the two intervening days to study the ground and 
co-ordinate our thinking; instead of which he un- 
balanced the Brigade by moving it on the 5th without 
even its first-line loads. Kaul ignored the laid-down 
time-honoured customs of assuming command and 
exercising authority. 

Instead of allowing himself time to get into the 
operational picture he strode into the scene like the God 
of War, ridiculed the tardiness of his superiors and 
subordinates and expressed his avowed intention to 
“get everyone off his arse and get him cracking!” 
Kaul was now reaping the fruits of the immense prestige 
bestowed on him by Nehru’s patronage. There was 
no one to curb his impetuosity, or dare to challenge 
him. He overawed everyone, including myself, into 
abject and meek surrender. It is important to under- 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


263 


stand this, as it helps to re-create the atmosphere and 
the setting under which all subordinates had to function. 
I too plead guilty to lack of moral courage in not 
protesting when he moved my Brigade without even the 
courtesy of informing me. 

On die 5th of October Gen. Kaul had anticipated 
the possibility of the Chinese overwhelming us and the 
possibility of a national disaster if we did not retrieve 
the situation rapidly. He had already informed HQ, 
Eastern Command that the Chinese might lure us 
into the Tsangdhar-Dhola area with the intention of 
capturing Towang. 

After listing all these dire prospects, Kaul never- 
theless asserted that he was “taking every step to evict 
the Chinese from our territory despite the many 
difficulties, as ordered”. This brash assurance was 
given before he had even visited the batdefield, or 
studied the military situation with anyone. His despatch 
was not that of a military man. He was not a helpless 
bystander of events that he could neither control nor 
disown. Until his arrival commanders had been 
stalling, on valid military grounds, and pleading that 
the situation was not one that could be retrieved in the 
foreseeable future. Kaul came and looked, but saw 
nothing, and became the prime motive force that 
ordained all activity from 5th October onwards. 

Kaul flew into Lumpu on the afternoon of 5th 
October. His version of the visit to Lumpu is extremely 
ingenuous. He says, disarmingly, that he could not 
fly to Serkhim due to bad weather. Actually there 
was no helipad at Serkhim on the afternoon of 5th 
October but one was in fact built by my Engineers that 
very night. Kaul then says that, “I therefore flew to 
Lumpu to fill my time usefully”. This unscheduled 
and casual visit produced the second disastrous and 
improper order oi the whole Thagla Episode. 

Gen. Kaul goes on to say that, “I ordered the bulk 
of HQ, 7. Brigade, 2 Rajput and 1/9 Gorkhas — awaiting 



264 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


porters to carry their stores - to move the next day to 
the Dhola area. I told them that I would hasten the 
despatch of their supplies and other materials forward 
as best I could”. 7 Brigade was not only waiting for 
porters; it was waiting for orders. It was waiting for 
war-like stores at Tsangdhar. 

The version of those who were at the receiving end 
of his orders is vastly different. According to them, 
the dramatic scene at the Lumpu helipad ran some- 
what as follows: Kaul flew in at about 2-30 p.m. and 
was received by Lt.-Col. Sen, the Officer Commanding 
the Field Ambulance, Major Jayaraman, the Surgeon 
and Major Kharbanda, the Brigade Major. Kaul 
introduced himself as the new Corps Commander of 
IV Corps. After, the introduction he asked Kharbanda 
where the GOC of 4 Division was. Kharbanda replied 
that he did not know as the GOC was sometimes in 
Towang and sometimes in Tezpur. 

Kaul then asked, “Have all the troops of 7 Brigade 
moved to Tsangdhar?” When the Brigade Major 
answered, “Not yet, Sir”, Kaul demanded to know the 
reason. “Why not? It was my definite order that 
the troops must be in position by the evening of 7th 
October”. He then threatened the Brigade Major, 
“How dare you disobey my orders, you are the Brigade 
Major. I have given an assurance to the Prime 
Minister that I Mali carry out the operation. I am not 
a Corps Commander to sit in Shillong to conduct the 
operation. I intend to be present to conduct the 
operation myself”. (This was an obvious dig at Gen. 
Umrao, who was based at Shillong.) 

Without knowing the situation, he was openly 
critical of 7 Brigade’s performance to date and made 
sarcastic remarks about its professional capability and 
tardiness. 

. Kaul then asked for the reasons why the Brigade 
Major had not implemented his order. Before waiting 
for a reply he added, “This is not Mount Everest. I notv 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


265 


give you orders to move all the fighting elements im- 
mediately, or else I will get you dismissed”. When the 
Brigade Major protested that he had been ordered not 
to move until further orders and requested that the 
General should refer the matter to me, Kaul refused 
to listen to Kharbanda’s pleas. He again threatened 
to sack this capable officer if he made anymore excuses. 

When the question of the lack of porters was 
raised by the Brigade Major, Kaul neatly side-stepped 
with the assurance that “there were plenty in Towang” 
and Kaul would be moving them at once. Kaul 
promised “to hasten the despatch of supplies and other 
materials forward as best I could”. In the meanwhile 
he ordered the move to take place on “hard scales and 
pouch ammunition”. He also emphasised that he 
wanted only the “bayonet strength” moved forward, 
a catch-phrase that did not reduce the requirement of 
porterage. These two battalions were under-strength 
-and when moving on a man-pack basis everyone is 
on the bayonet strength even if he is only a carrier. 
An intimate knowledge of the workings of an infantry 
battalion is a sine qua non for command. Slogans about 
“bayonet strength” and “hard scales” may impress the 
uninitiated and provide a convenient way of disposing 
of the problem of a unit’s first-line loads, but are pro- 
fessionally unconvincing. Kaul was in a hurry to take 
on the world’s largest land army, with the bayonet 
strength of two under-strength battalions, moving on 
hard scales! 

Doubts about the shortage of rations were assuaged 
with the promise that these would be dropped at 
Tsangdhar. 

Kharbanda’s final desperate plea was that the 
move should take place on the morrow at first light, as 
there was little point in leaving at 3.30 p.m., halting 
after an hour or so and bivouacking for an extra night in 
the open. The odd mile or so that would be covered 
could be catered for by an earlier start the next day. 



266 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The story given to me by my staff, at the time , is a 
far cry from KauTs seemingly guileless afterthoughts of 
how 7 Brigade came to be moved to the Namka Chu. 
As late as February/March 1963, there were doubts 
about how 7 Brigade came to be moved to and later 
helplessly anchored in the Namka Chu. My Brigade 
Major was questioned closely by the NEFA Enquiry 
Board, in two separate sessions. I came to know that 
some interested party was trying to shift the blame for 
the mad stampede to the Namka Chu, to others. 
Major Kharbanda eventually gave a verbatim account 
of his conversation with Kaul in the form of a playlet 
and vindicated 7 Brigade. 

I was also told by a reliable person that an im- 
pression had been created that I was a very brave 
commander and that I had unhesitatingly accepted the 
commitment of evicting the Chinese. This story was 
planted and given currency when it was thought that 
X had been killed, and would not return to tell the 
truth. No doubt I would have been decorated post- 
humously. Unfortunately, the Chinese announced my 
capture on 16th November 1962, and that put the lid 
on this short-lived canard. 

* * * 

The premature move of 7 Brigade to the Namka 
Chu, with the vague assurance that the war-like stores 
would be hastened forward as best as the Corps Com- 
mander could -a pledge that was dishonoured right 
up to 20th October -was a military blunder. 

Of what use was an infantry formation without 
its tools of war? 7 Brigade moved without basic winter 
clothing; with only three days, rations on the man; no 
reserves; without mortars and ammunition; without 
rocket launchers and ammunition; without defence 
stores and with only personal items of kit. This meant 
that the battle-worthiness of the battalions would be 
negligible till these caught up with them. Many of 
these items were not even available at Lumpu and we 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


267 


were awaiting drops, from the rear. Lumpu was a 
larger and better dropping zone for the receipt and 
collection of these stores than Tsangdhar. 

There were no stores of any kind at Tsangdhar to 
issue to units on arrival. Tsangdhar was by now a 
proven failure as a major dropping zone, as heavy losses 
continued to be reported daily. Even what was 
dropped could not be retrieved due to the paucity of 
man-power. Ordinary military prudence would have 
suggested a staggered move based on the available 
porters, and after kitting up the men. The supply of 
the basic needs to maintain men in combat conditions, 
within a few days, under the circumstances, was not an 
inconsiderable task; nor was it a bonus. 

The urgency for the move, in the face of the 
enormous difficulties, was not known at the time; how- 
ever, they were in clear supersession of Umrao’s orders. 
Why did Kaul disregard all military prudence? Why 
did Kaul decide that, in the words of Sir John French, 
C-in-C of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914, 
“We should go forward and decide destination later?” 
Why did Kaul disregard military protocol and issue 
direct orders to the Brigade Major? Kaul had come 
with a pre-determined D-Day and pre-conceived notions 
on how to tackle the Chinese. This is the only possible 
explanation for his moving a token brigade to ostensibly 
challenge a strong Chinese brigade in such a hasty, 
reckless, unrealistic manner. 

At the time, Kaul gave the impression that he was 
aggressively determined that IV Corps - his first battle 
command — should do well; and even accomplish some- 
thing spectacular. He was “keyed up to a pitch of 
valour and combativeness”. He hoped to lead a 
triumphal march up the Thagla Heights, without 
opposition, for a spectacular Super-Galwan to silence a 
vociferous Indian public and save Government from 
forfeiting public confidence. Part of his trouble was 
the political foundation on which the entire strategic 



268 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


concept was built. His panache revealed liis utter 
belief that the Chinese would not do anything big, 
even if we needled them, and pranced in front of them. 
He may also have suffered from a feeling of professional 
insecurity engendered by his background and the com- 
pulsive need to silence the many enemies that he had 
collected as a controversial figure, in the Indian scene. 
He was also an incurable optimist whose temperament 
did not permit him to anticipate trouble. All this 
may provide an explanation for liis intolerance of the 
difficulties and liis reluctance to bow to infantry limita- 
tions. His readiness to classify “impossibilities” as 
“difficulties”; the use of phrases like “keeping my 
fingers crossed” and refusing to “bicker” over the 
impossibility of evicting the Chinese, are pointers to 
his attitude of mind. Of all people Kaul should have 
known that you “cannot make bricks without straw!” 

Gen. Kaul was unfair to himself, and never gave 
himself a chance to get the feel of the Thagla “con- 
frontation”, without which he was doomed from the 
start. Admittedly it is the duty of commanders to 
chivvy their subordinate commanders and forestall the 
tendency to adopt “Fabian tactics”, when speed and 
boldness are required. But there has to be a com- 
promise between bold leadership and acceptance of 
harsh realities, especially the Himalayan terrain, the 
Himalayan weather, the fatigue of overworked troops 
and the superior Chinese force sitting on the command- 
ing heights of Thagla. When there is no suitable 
compromise, speed and daring become synonymous 
with recklessness. It was simplicity itself to order the 
move of the bayonet strength of battalions, on hard 
scales and pouch ammunition; it was a different matter 
to set up a combat group to evict a superior Chinese 
Force. 

Gen. Kaul must remainsolely responsible for moving 
7 Brigade, to take on a Chinese Brigade already in full 
battle array at Thagla, and waiting patiently for us to 



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269 


enter their web. It is impossible to dilute Kaul’s 
responsibility, as there can never be two commanders 
in any one operation. Since he moved 7 Brigade, he 
must beheld responsible as he would have been entitled 
to the glory if his gamble had come off. He was let 
down by the Chinese and not by his troops. His hopes 
were dashed by the instant and massive retaliation to 
the manoeuvre of 10th October. It does no one any 
good to take refuge in so-called prior plans made by 
others; or blame the politicians after brashly accepting 
an impossible task. He learnt the “lesson by which 
God teaches the law to kings”. Sad to say, in the 
process, India suffered grievously. 

* * * 

While we were indulging in these activities the 
Chinese were moving a whole division to the Thagla 
area. Their intentions were no longer concealed. 
They reasoned well that the Indian Government was 
now too deeply involved to retreat without loss of face, 
so dear to us Asians. On 3rd October they proclaimed 
that “The McMahon Line was null and void and has 
never been recognised by any Chinese Government”. 
This official pronouncement had a vital bearing on 
the overall military situation as the Chinese were now 
free ^ to conduct operations inside NEFA, which is 
precisely what they did on and after 20th October 
1962. The Thagla intrusion could no longer be 
localised and yet there was no reaction from the Indian 
side. The entire military effort continued to be 
concentrated in the Namka Chu. 

On 5th October the correspondent of The Times , 
London, wrote this excellent and incisive appreciation of 
the Indian Government’s dilemma, “The Government’s 
first hope was to squeeze out the Chinese intruders and 
to use the minimum force in doing so. It was, it is 
believed, only later when it appeared that the Chinese 
were not to be herded out that the Army was ordered 
to eject them with all necessary force. A complementary 



270 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


explanation is that the Indian Army has a sharper 
awareness than the civilians in the Government of the 
magnitude of the task”. 

* * * 

To revert to my move to the Namka Chu; on 6th 
October, we made for the foot of Karpola I Pass. This 
route was infinitely worse than the Hathungla approach. 
The gradients were steeper and the temperature below 
freezing point. It is asking too much of unacclimatised 
and ill-clad troops to negotiate 16,000-foot passes 
cumbered with an 80-lb. load on their backs. Hounding 
and driving troops could not overcome human frailties 
and limitations. 

On the 6th morning we stopped as usual to hear 
the 8 o’clock Delhi news, as was our wont to keep in 
touch with developments. The announcer gave the 
news of a new High Altitude Allowance that had been 
sanctioned by the Government. This allowance had 
been blocked by Finance for years on trivial issues, 
and we had despaired of ever getting it sanctioned during 
our tenure in NEFA. When the present Chief, Gen. 
P. P. Kumaramangalam was the Adjutant General, in 
April 1962, he visited Towang. He told us that he 
was doubtful if Finance would agree, in the immediate 
future, as they had raised innumerable queries about 
entitlement and the exact line after which men would 
be eligible and so on. And yet here was the allowance 
sanctioned within two days of Kaul’s appointment. 
There were cynical comments about the distribution of 
lollipops at the last minute. The announcement did 
as much harm as good. Many did not live to enjoy 
the extra pay. It is very degrading to receive special 
allowances in a crisis. We did the same thing during 
the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, when we announced 
increased pension rates after the commencement of 
hostilities. The modern Indian Army is not a mer- 
cenary one and does not expect special monetary 
inducements to do its duty. 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


271 


Karpola I Pass is an awesome sight. It is prac- 
tically vertical, and strewn with loose boulders. There 
was danger at every step of a rock being dislodged. 
Every foot-step is fraught with danger to the person 
below. It was easy to turn an ankle or stumble. It 
took three hours of back-breaking work to reach the 
top. It was especially difficult for a man burdened 
with something heavy like a Bren-gun or wireless set. 
The Pass was very narrow, barely 15 feet wide at the 
summit. We arrived at Tsangdhar at 4 p.m. and, for 
the first time, heard of the move of the Brigade to the 
Namka Chu. This news was received by my COs 
and myself with grave forebodings. The men were 
not clad for the march over the 16,000-foot Karpola I 
Pass, and for staying at Tsangdhar which is itself 14,500 
feet, and bitterly cold. There were no shelters en route 
or at Tsangdhar; no firewood for cooking. No advance 
party could be sent to organise the reception of the 
main body - a routine and fundamental requirement for 
approach marches, and imperative in the mountains. 
The troops would have to bivouac in the open for two 
or more nights. I never dreamt that Kaul would 
move them to the Dhola area without consulting me 
as Gen. Umrao had done. Once he saw the military 
situation I thought that he would abandon all talk of 
evicting the Chinese. 

Subsequently our gloom was borne out by events 
when reports of pulmonary disorders, chillblain and 
even frost-bite poured in. Many died at Tsangdhar. 
Th ft battalifi»3& ra&rcd wwi ’■wWwcraft. racot 

elementary requirements for battle. They had been 
on hard rations and without protection against the 
cold for many days. Kaul himself bemoans these 
happenings, without realising that they were the direct 
result of his own orders. 

We spent a. cold, bleak night in another herder’s 
hut. It was difficult to breathe. I had a severe 
headache and my nerves were taut. I had never felt 



272 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


so helpless in my life. It seemed that there was nothing 
I could do to control or avert the impending disaster. 
* * # 

After spending the night at Tsangdhar we left for 
Dhola Post, to meet Gens. Kaul and Prasad, who were 
moving on foot from Serkhim, via Hathungla Pass, 
having flown from Ziminthaung to Serkhim in a heli- 
copter. A special helipad had been built for the 
Generals at Serkhim, by Major Gopal, the Commander 
of my Engineer field company. After leaving Lumpu, 
on 5th October, Gen. Kaul sent for this officer, at 
about 4.30 p.m., and ordered him to construct a 
helipad, in the marshy area near Serkhim, by 5.30 a.m. 
the next day. Gopal left at about 7 p.m. with Petromax 
and hurricane lamps. Working all night they com- 
pleted the job. 

Lt.-Col. Misra, CO 9 Punjab met Kaul at Serkhim 
on 6th October. During the march to Bridge I Kaul 
and Misra exchanged some light-hearted banter about 
the Thagla Heights. Kaul asked Misra what the 
height of Thagla was. On being told that it was at 
least 12,000 feet, Kaul said, “It can’t be, tahe off 
5,000 feet and it will be 7,000 feet”. Misra was heard 
muttering, “Take off 12,000 feet and it will bloody 
well be mean sea level”. When asked about the 
gradient of Thagla, Misra said it was about 70 degrees. 
Kaul said, “It cannot be. I have been told that you 
people are exaggerating everything as you do not want 
to do the job. Thagla is a plateau”. 

Kaul met the Punjabi detachments at Bridges I 
and II, and was favourably impressed with their good 
spirits and their excellent defensive positions. They 
had had 21 days to prepare these positions and had 
been given the entire resources of the Brigade. 

The events of 7th, 8th and 9th October are best 
taken together, as they represent the days when Kaul 
was “planning” and waiting for the two battalions to' 
reach Dhola from Lumpu. 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


273 


I met Gen. Kaul at Dhola at 2.30 p.m. on 7th 
October. He was accompanied by bis trusted staff 
officer, Lt.-Col. Sanjceva Rao. Kaul met the Dhola 
Post Commander and the local Intelligence Bureau 
Officer. Without * further ado, he announced that 
Government had specially selected him for the task of 
evicting the Chinese. He spent the afternoon studying 
the topography of the Thagla Massif, and the Chinese 
dispositions and strengths. I briefed both Generals 
about the progress of the two battalions, the various 
shortages, - the stock position and the state of the 
battalions after their forced march. Strange to relate, 
this was our first meeting and it was held after Kaul 
had set the Brigade in motion. That evening Kaul 
signalled HQ, Eastern Command as follows: 

(a) “The bulk of our air-drops of supplies, am- 
munition and winter clothing were landing in 
inaccessible places. 

( b ) There were only three days’ rations available 
with 2 Rajput and 1/9 Gorkhas and fifty 
rounds of small arms ammunition per man. 
Our mortars and ammunition were still in 
transit between Lumpu and here. 

(c) Due to lack of winter clothing men of these 
two battalions were spending the night at a 
height of 15,000 feet in summer uniform with 
one blanket. (We were also short of boots.) 

(d) There was an acute shortage of civil porters 
vihich, oouplcd with inaccurate drops, "was 
slowing down the process of our logistical 
build-up. 

(*) The labour I have commandeered from the 
Border Roads Organisation would take some 
days before they became available as they were 
spread over a distance of about 200 miles. 

(/) Additional aircraft be placed at our disposal 
immediately for task of air-drops. 



274 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


(g) I (Kaul) was taking every possible step to 
evict the Chinese from our territory (despite 
our many difficulties) as ordered. 

(k) The Chinese with their superior resources 
were likely to dislodge us from any positions 
which we may initially capture”. 

This was a very encouraging signal, as I sincerely 
believed that Kaul was softening the Government by 
stating the harsh facts. Surely Government must now 
alter its decision about, evicting the Chinese. Kaul 
gave me the impression that he had accepted the 
“impossibilities” I had listed. 

Before retiring I asked Gen. Prasad, my immediate 
boss, what was the plan of action as the two battalions 
were due to arrive at Tsangdhar and I would have to 
give them orders. Obviously they could not survive 
a prolonged stay at Tsangdhar without clothes, bedding 
and shelters. He confessed he did not know, as the 
entire operational situation was under Kaul’s control. 
GOC 4 Division obviously had no plans of his own. 
The General was but a passenger. 

Gen. Kaul has drawn three great red herrings 
to cloud the activities of 7th, 8th and 9th October; and 
he has omitted two vital facts. In doing so he has 
implicated Sen, Umrao, Prasad, and myself. 

The first red herring is with regard to the selection, 
of the Dhola area. He writes,' “My first reactions were 
that the Dhola area was unsuitable from many view- 
points and should never have been’ selected for any 
operational purpose (defence or attack) by Lt.-Gen. Sen 
or Brigadier Dalvi for the following reasons: 

(a) Its fines of approach were- difficult and un- 
satisfactory due to poor communications and 
hence the inaccessibility of this place. 

■(b) Observation of mutual -posts of our own and 
some enemy positions was not as good as 
it should have been. . It therefore afforded 
indifferent fields of fire. 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


275 


(c) Good mobility of our own troops was not 
possible due to poor communications. 

(i d ) A raging torrent lay right in front of our 
positions as a difficult obstacle which was a 
great handicap”: 

He goes on to say, “Even if Government had asked 
Lt.-Gen. Sen to drive the Chinese from the vicinity 
of Dhola and take up a position in that area for this 
purpose, he should have represented to higher autho- 
rities the tactical, topographical and other difficulties 
of doing so from the area in question and should have 
threatened the Chinese from a more favourable position 
to himself”. 

He adds, “The enemy was located along the 
Thagla Ridge in an impressive array-in numbers and 
material, which lay right under our nose and could 
be seen clearly. On the other hand, our troops 
remained short of supplies, weapons and equipment 
alike. Our position - selected by others before / took 
command - was located in what seemed a dangerous low-lying 
trap. The Chinese overlooked us everywhere”. 

The second red herring is drawn across so-called 
earlier plans that were drawn up before he assumed 
command. He writes, “Brigadier Dalvi, Commander 
7 Infantry Brigade, had stated in an Appreciation as 
far back as 28th September 1962, submitted to 4 Infantry 
Division,' that an attack was feasible from the left of 
Dhola with a firm base at Tsangley which should be 
secured as the first phase”. 

He refers to this plan a second time, “I approved 
the plan of Brigadier Dalvi, made by him before my 
arrival, of sending approximately a company, North of 
the River Namka Chu, in the area Tseng-Jong which 
lay in our territory, on the 8th and occupying this 
position for the following reasons: 

(a) Our troops had gone North of the River 
already, BEFORE I arrived on the scene , when 
Tsangley was occupied. 



276 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


[b] If we had not occupied Tseng-Jong when we 
did, the Chinese would have done so shortly 
afterwards (as there were indications already 
before we occupied it) and threatened our 
position at Log Bridge. 

(c) Commander, 7 Infantry Brigade had stated 
in his Appreciation on 28th September, six 
days before I took over, that his men would 
cross the river and occupy Tseng-Jong (sugges- 
tions have been wrongly made (hat I initiated this 
order). Even if I wanted to stop this move 
it was too late for me to do so as when I 
reached there on the 8 th, one company was 
already on the way to Tseng-Jong under orders 
of the Brigade Commander. 

The third red herring concerns the alleged defective 
defensive positions at Bridge IV, which Kaul was 
“constrained” to point out to me, compared unfavour- 
ably with those of the Chinese. 

These observations divert attention from the 
following facts which Kaul has omitted from his book, 
The Untold Story : 

(< a ) He ordered 2 Rajput and 1/9 Gorkhas, on 8th 
and 9th October, to move from Tsangdhar 
to the Dhola area (having already moved 
them from Lumpu on 5th October). 

( b ) On 9th October, he ordered the whole of 
2 Rajput to move from Dhola to Yumtsola 
on I Oth October and sit behind the Chinese. 

IVhy has Kaul made these observations which 
reflect adversely on the professional competence of his 
predecessors and subordinates? By criticising the Dhola 
position Kaul might have hoped to cover himself for 
using the same unsound positions as the base for his 
plan of action. By insinuating prior plans to the 
Brigade Commander he may hope to create the im- 
pression that he was forced to accept events that he 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


277 


could neither control nor disown, as lie had been given 
a deadline by Government, i»c. to evict the Chinese 
before the snows made operations impossible, and a 
great deal of irreversible activity had already been 
initiated “before he took over”. 

The arguments used against the Dhola area are, 
ironically, my own and were well known. Gen. Umrao 
Singh had included them in his letter of 30th September. 

Dhola was not selected for any operational purpose 
whatsoever. It is a matter of regret that in his hurry 
to reach the Namka Chu and evict the Chinese, he did 
not allow himself time to study the background to the 
operations, and the modest aims laid down initially. 
He also failed to avail himself of the opportunity of 
consulting me, before ordering the whole Brigade to 
this unsuitable area. Had he discussed the matter with 
me at Lumpu on 5th October, I could have briefed 
him on the unsuitability of Dhola as well as the main 
points of our appreciation and plan. It is inconceivable 
that he was not briefed by anyone on the background 
and that he did not know of the first limited aim, 
which was to relieve Dhola and to ensure that the* 
post was not abandoned under Chinese threats. It was 
only for this reason that a company of regular troops 
had been despatched to sit near the Assam Rifles and 
keep the supply line open. He should have known 
that 7 Brigade was ordered not to allow any further 
encroachments into our territory and 9 Punjab had 
accordingly been deployed to “police” the border. 
Indeed 9 Punjab had been moved personally by the 
Army Commander who had himself been urged to do 
so by the Chief, after the meetings on 13tli/ 14th .Septem- 
ber. Having lost the Tliagla Heights the only other 
suitable tactical positions were on the Tsangdhar 
plateau and Hathungla; but politically it was unthink- 
able to give up two miles of Indian territory and 
abandon Dhola. The whole object of the exercise was 
to uphold our right to maintain posts in our territory. 



278 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The question of the tactical soundness of the Dhola 
area is academic and intended to evade the question 
of how 7 Brigade eventually allowed itself to he 
destroyed in the Namka Chu. 

Before Kaul assumed command, the Namka Chu 
area had only one battalion with the rest of the Brigade 
at Lumpu. Even if the outline plan of 28th September 
had been implemented the two battalions would have 
by-passed Dhola and moved to Tsangle via Tsangdhar. 

It was Gen. Kaul who himself selected the Dhola area 
for his plan. It was he who ordered the Rajputs and the 
Gorkhas to move from Lumpu to Dhola. 

If the Dhola position was a wrong one, Gen. Kaul 
having seen it for himself, on 7th October, would 
surely have ordered the abandonment of this unsound 
position and the occupation of better positions. Why 
then did he permit the continued occupation -of Dhola 
with a whole brigade, where there had been only one 
company? 

Major S. R. Johori has this comment to offer in 
his book, Chinese Invasion Of NEFA: “Later on the Corps 
Commander along with the Divisional Commander was 
present in the Dhola sector for more than four days. 
As a routine the Corps Commander was critical of tire 
Dhola defences but he did nothing to change the 
defended localities for a better site. Probably there 
was none. The 7 th Brigade had to occupy Dhola and 
defend it. The Dhola defences could not be given up 
simply because they were tactically unsound. ... In 
spite of the tactical unsuitability of the place there 
were compelling reasons for defending Dhola. One 
was the infiltration in the area of the Chinese which 
had to be stopped”. How right lie is! 

The fact is that Kaul himself was compelled to 
use the Dhola approach as it was the shortest, quickest 
and the only one which fitted in with his plans. If he 
had to do something by the 10th, then the longer 
Tsanglc-Tseng Jong approach had to be discarded on the 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


279 


grounds that the troops could not be moved and 
maintained along this route. Moreover, the approach 
march would have taken a minimum of 8 to 10 days 
and the troops would have needed an enforced rest 
before being committed. In other words, Kaul could 
not have achieved the deadline of 10th October which 
the Cabinet had set him, unless he chose Dhola as the 
assembly area of 7 Brigade. It is therefore grossly 
unfair to denigrate Gen. Sen and tarnish his professional 
reputation — at least on this score. 

Now to the red herring of previous plans which 
were apparently binding on 8th October and which 
cramped Kaul’s initiative, making liim a passive 
spectator. The plan was defunct for reasons which 
have been amply brought out. Whatever hopes there 
might have been of carrying out a limited probe in 
strength on 28th September, there were none on 8th 
October. In any case, if the plan to cross the river 
was drawn up on 28th September why was it delayed 
till 8th October? And why was the route altered from 
Tsangle to Dhola to a frontal advance to Tseng-Jong? 

The truth is that there were no plans or orders to 
send anyone anywhere on the night of 7th/8th October, 
in fact there were no plans of any kind. We were 
waiting for Kaul to complete his reconnaissance, arrive 
at his own assessment of the situation and issue fresh 
orders. 

Equally Kaul would have known of any allegedly 
unilateral plan to cross the de-facto boundary - the 
Namka Chu - and occupy Tseng-Jong. He had been 
with us from the afternoon of the 7th. Kaul says that 
he “discussed till quite late various operational situa- 
tions which were likely to arise during the next few 
days’*. This is delightfully vague. Is it logical to 
believe that the move of a company to the sensitive 
North bank, across the de-facto boundary, in the face 
of the massed Chinese would not have figured in the 
discussions? Would Kaul not have asked us for our 



280 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


plans, and would we not have told him? 7 Brigade- 
was not made up of a body of fire-eaters or morons. 

Major Johori has effectively demolished Kaul’s 
references to prior plans. He writes: “The IV Corps 
Commander reached the sector on the 6th. He 
remained there from 6th to 11th October. He held 
many conferences with his senior commanders. He 
also must have formed his own views on the subject. 
The very presence of the Corps Commander in the field 
of operations was enough to confirm that he had 
approved the operational plan to be launched to achieve 
the aim of the brigade. One cannot imagine that an 
officer of Lt.-Gen. Kaul’s calibre and influence could 
be an idle onlooker of historic events taking place there. 
Therefore it is wrong to say that it was the Brigade 
Commander’s idea to make Tsangle a firm base for the 
impending operations. In arriving at this decision 
every senior officer present in the area had a hand in 
proportion to his responsibility and authority. In the 
first week of October 1962 Lt.-Gen. Kaul’s presence in 
the sector makes it obligatory to liim to accept full 
responsibility for the execution of the plan of attack 
against the Chinese intruders. If the plan was not to 
his liking he could have immediately stopped its 
execution. After all, he was the Corps Commander 
and his word at the time was law in the sector. Lt.-Gen. 
Kaul himself admits that he approved ‘the plan of 
Brigadier Dalvi’. Our objection is against the asso- 
ciation in the plan with the name of Dalvi. The moment 
the plan was approved by the Corps Commander, the 
highest authority in the area, it became the Corps 
Commander’s plan, the Indian Army’s plan”. 

The last lacuna in Kaul’s disarming explanation 
for the move of the patrol which suffered so grievously, 
is the assertion that it was “too late” to stop it. Why 
was it too late? The company was in continuous 
wireless touch and reported its arrival by radio tele- 
phony. It could have been recalled at a moment’s 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


281 


notice. The patrol would have returned with ‘indecent 
alacrity’. No one relishes “sitting” in the midst of 
armed enemies. 

The strictures about the defective preparations at 
Bridge IV are unwarranted and unjust. I have often 
wondered what could have led the General to make 
tills observation which reflects more adversely on the 
junior leaders than brigade commanders. After all, 
Prasad and I too had arrived at the Namka Chu with 
the General on the 7th. On the 9th there were no 
defensive positions at Bridge IV, except for Major 
Chaudhry’s company. These men belonged to the 
same battalion which Kaul had commended for pre- 
paring good defences at Bridges I and II, under the 
same CO, Lt.-Col. Misra. Why then should this 
company have been remiss when it was commanded by 
an excellent company commander? And what is the 
point he is making? 

Major Chaudhry was a gallant and able officer 
who gave his life for his country during the Chinese 
War of 1962. He commanded one of the best companies 
of a first-rate battalion. Chaudhry commanded the 
detachment that was sent to Tseng-Jong on 10th 
October, and earned a gallantry award for his 
conspicuous bravery. It is my privilege to defend this 
fine young officer. I am satisfied that he and his men 
did all that was possible with the limited tools at their 
disposal, to carry out the non-military task given to 
them. 

- , To complete the picture of general incompetence, 
inefficiency and lethargy, Kaul throws in a last shrewd 
observation, “Also, except for 9 Punjab, few others had 
good ^knowledge of the ground, as they had just arrived 
there \ , Who else besides 9 Punjab should have known 
and did not know the ground? Who were the “others” 
and where had they come from ? And for what purpose ? 

These comments of Kaul were designed to create 
the impression that Dhola was an occupied, prepared 



282 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


defended area. It was not. Kaul liimsclf moved the 
Gorkhas and Rajputs into the vacuum at Bridges III 
and IV, and on 9th October these two battalions had 
to occupy positions, without the normal battle drill 
for such an operation. Everyone just arrived at the 
same time, and junior commanders were virtually 
forced to site themselves in gross contravention of 
elementary infantry training and practice. 

Gen. Kaul should have dismissed a Brigade Com- 
mander whose omissions ranged from a badly selected 
area for operations to badly prepared positions. Senior 
Commanders do not go round being “constrained” to 
point out such serious faults during operations but air 
their disapproval only in memoirs. Patently Kaul had 
no grounds to take any such action. It is intolerable 
that those who brought us to the sorry pass of October 
1962 should dare to sit in judgement on the brave men 
who were never given a chance; never given the tools; 
never given the time, and never given the Ieaderslup to 
prepare for any sort of military operation of war. 

Let us now turn to the climatic events that cul- 
minated in the clash of 10th October, and set up the 
stage without embellishments or extraneous observations. 
On 8th and 9th October Gen. Kaul held “operational 
discussions” with Gen. Prasad, Commander 7 Brigade 
and the three COs; the Brigade Major and sundry 
other officers were also in attendance. Captain Mahabir 
Prasad, the officer who had established Dhola Post in 
May 1962, was a special invitee to this august assembly, 
as he was supposed to know the Chinese-held area of 
Thagla. All this so-called planning took place with- 
out a single functioning HQ_ and decisions were about 
to be taken without benefit of staff studies, or follow-up 
action by staff officers. HQ IV Corps had not 
been established. Assorted gentlemen were fetching up 
at Tczpur, armed with appointment letters from 
the Military Secretary but not knowing where Thagla 
was. 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


283 


Operational plans that are likely to involve the 
honour of the nation are not drawn up by an in- 
gathering of assorted commanders, without maps, 
without staffs and without any administrative backing. 
To say the least, it is most unusual to formulate plans 
in a soviet of leaders, after the fashion of a band of 
guerillas, or smugglers. Major Johori has characterised 
Kaul’s conferences as . informal and reminded 
one of a unit darbar though on a corps level. Here 
the Indian Army was making history P* 

8th October was spent mostly at Bridge III, 
gazing at the peaks on the Thagla Massif, and showing 
Gen. Kaul the Chinese dispositions. He kept asking 
for vacant areas and the routes to them. Captain 
Prasad was the sole source of information, assisted by 
the local Intelligence Bureau representative and the 
Dhola Post Commander. Despite the strange nature 
of his queries we were not alerted as to his intentions. 
He discussed the possibility of various “hooks” and 
sending commando groups to occupy odd isolated points. 
There was an unnerving confusion of plans and pro- 
posals. In between, the General regaled us with 
stories of Rommel’s turning movements, although none 
of us could see the relevance of the famous desert Field- 
Marshal’s tactics at Himalayan heights of over 14,000 
feet. He interspersed his “reconnaissance” with 
anecdotes about his experiences in Korea and his visit 
to China. He told us tales of Chinese bravery in the 
Korean War. He told us of the political background 
in_ Delhi and how Mr. Nehru was being taunted by 
Right-Wing elements, and pushed by pugnacious civil 
servants to be tough with the Chinese. I could scarcely 
credit that this was a serious operational conference. 
The whole Order Group heard these reminiscences and 
comments. I had never before attended anything so 
informal. Speaking for myself and my COs, I can 
say, with all responsibility, that Gen. Kaul’s approach 
to the serious matter of evicting the Chinese did not 
enthuse us. In fact, on the 8th evening we thought 



284 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


that having seen the tactical position, he would soon 
be telling the Government that we should call off all 
attempts at ejecting them. That could be the only- 
reason why Kaul never went into details of the various 
ideas with which he kept toying. 

On each of the nights of 7th, 8th and 9th October, 
Gen. Kaul would draft signals to the highest in the 
land. Due to lack of a staff and an office, Col. Rao 
and I were turned into scribes and took down his 
lengthy reports in longhand. The role of amanuensis 
sits ill on a harassed senior brigadier. Most of them 
were couched in the gloomiest terms, portraying des- 
perate shortages, predicting dire consequences and 
forecasting grim possibilities. And yet the General 
was the picture of confidence when he invariably signed 
off with the assurance that he would do all in his power 
“to fulfil the given tasks”. X was quite bewildered at 
this apparent contradiction between the facts stated 
and his naive optimism. 

The next day a sturdy Sikh from the Punjabis 
would be detailed to “run” with this vital message to 
Lumpu. From there, the second-in-command of the 
Punjabis would phone it through to Zimingtliaung, 
where it would be enciphered and transmitted to 
Tczpur, Delhi and Lucknow. This “tribal” signals set- 
up exemplified the prc-historic arrangements that 
obtained in October 1962. The first such message 
reached Delhi after three days. Mr. Men on was 
extremely annoyed and demanded the dismissal of the 
Chief Signals Officer of HQ. Eastern Command, for 
inefficiency. It took a great deal of tact and persuasion 
to convince the Honourable Minister of the primitive 
signals communications that existed. In those days the 
simple solution to every' problem was to sack someone. 
The tragic neglect of the years, by’ those in the highest 
positions, in keeping the Army' without suitable 
mountain equipment, was conveniently forgotten. 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


285 


We now come to the fateful decision of 9th October 
1962. On the morning of 9th October the Order 
Group assembled for the second sitting. Gen. Kaul 
then gave out his “appreciation”. He appreciated the 
impossibility of physically evicting the Chinese from 
any of their positions because of the adverse military 
situation. He realised that we would not be able to 
hold on to any gains that we may make on the Thagla 
Massif. 

Gen. Kaul then threw the bombshell with which 
he had come from Delhi. He said that in spite of 
the stark facts and irrefutable arguments against 
military action, he had no option but to make some move on 
10th October , as this was the last date acceptable to the Cabinet , 
whatever the cost. He went on to say that the Army 
Commander (Sen) had advised 'Government that he 
would evict the Chinese on 29th September; then 
changed the date to 1st October; and later to 5th 
October. There was a feeling in Delhi, conveyed by 
Gen. Sen, that the forward troops were stalling and 
that is why he (Kaul) had been sent to speed up 
operations before the onset of the snows and to ensure 
that the Chinese were evicted immediately. He added 
that the Cabinet was understandably perturbed at the 
frequent changes of dates which the Army itself had 
given. He claimed that it was the Army that had 
misled the politicians by giving them some hopes of 
ejecting the Chinese. 

Kaul stated, in passing, that the eviction of the 
Chinese was imperative in the national interest and the 
country was prepared to lose 20,000 lives if necessary, 
for the achievement of this aim. He hoped that our 
wills were in order! There was a macabre air about 
the whole business. 

As a direct assault on Thagla was ruled out, he 
decided to do a “positional-warfare” manoeuvre, and 
occupy Yumtsola — to the west of Thagla peak-which 
was not, at that time, occupied by the Chinese. Kaul 



286 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


said that he hoped that this action would satisfy Govern- 
ment that “the Army had done its best to carry out its 
orders”. He kept emphasising that this “operation” 
had to be started on 10th October, as he did not have 
the latitude to postpone it 

The need to concentrate 7 Brigade by 9th October 
and the move of this ill-armed brigade, with pouch 
ammunition and hard scales were now clear. Now we 
can understand the cursory record of the operational 
talks at Tezpur, which were confined mainly to the 
progress of concentrating 7 Brigade at Dhola. Hence- 
forth we can dispense with all talk of badly selected 
strategic positions; previous plans made by brigadiers; 
and badly sited positions. They are only intended to 
mitigate the miscalculation of 9th October; Kaul had 
decided to provide “the kind of leadership that makes a 
war a game of clergyman’s chess” - (in the words of 
Corelli Barnett). 

Kaul then ordered 2 Rajputs to move to Yumtsola, to 
sit behind the Chinese, on 10th October 1962. 

This order was given when the Rajputs were still 
recovering from their gruelling march over Karpola I 
Pass. Despite the known critical shortages and the 
adverse tactical situation, Gen. Kaul ordered the con- 
centration of both 2 Rajputs and 1 /9 Gorkhas to the 
Namka Chu. The move from Tsangdhar to the Namka 
Chu was under direct Chinese observation and must 
have alerted them. The swift and vigorous Chinese 
riposte the next day was undoubtedly influenced by 
the large-scale Indian movement. Now' the whole 
Brigade was in the same Dhola death-trap which 
Kaul had earlier decried. 

* * * 

Before recording the reactions of the recipients of 
this fantastic order I should like to make two military 
observations, one about ground and the other about 
battle procedures adopted by battalions to move to a 
defensive locality. Let us take ground first.' It is 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


287 


necessary to understand the meaning of ground and 
dominating heights which have figured prominently in 
this narrative. It had been well said by Mr. Majdalany 
in Iris book, Cassino-Porlrait Of A Battle, that: “Ground 
is the raw material of the soldier as weapons are his 
tools. Ground is the factor which more than any 
other, eventually controls the shape of a battle. This 
is the basis of all tactics”. 

Mountains pose special tactical problems. An 
occupied mountain is an even more difficult proposition. 
Mountains are dominating because they provide 
observation which enables one trained Artillery Observ- 
ations Officer, with wireless communication to bring 
down the fire of all guns within range, within minutes, 
onto any target that he can see. The better the observ- 
ation the more difficult it is for the other side to move, 
much less manoeuvre. 

The piece of ground called Thagla was a 15,000- 
foot mountain, was heavily garrisoned and provided 
excellent observation to the well-equipped Chinese 
Force, supported by modern artillery and mortars. 

Thagla was a sensitive piece of ground which the 
Chinese claimed to be theirs even under the terms of 
the. McMahon Line. Tactically it overlooked the 
Chinese base at Le. As of 9th October only superior 
military force could have regained Thagla for us. Even 
the most enthusiastic burst of credulity and optimism 
should not have induced us to imagine that the Chinese 
would meekly forego their many advantages — especially 
after we had announced to the world that we had 
despatched a task force, with an outstanding general, 
to evict them. After all, the Chinese had invented the 
concept of “loss of face”. They would certainly not 
give ground without a fight. 

; The move of a force of battalion strength is an 
operation .which requires , meticulous planning - even 
when no immediate enemy opposition is anticipated. 
It is axiomatic that infantry units should not be com- 



288 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


mitted to a task which may flare up into a battle, unless 
the officers and non-commissioned officers have been 
given an opportunity to reconnoitre the ground, 
formulate plans and issue detailed orders on the ground. 
In this case we would be dispensing with these routine 
procedures. 

Gen. Kaul's decision, however valid in its political 
assumptions, would clearly involve the complete dis- 
regard of these two and other elementary precautions. 
He was asking the Brigade to find its own mobile 
echelon and secure its own base of operations along the 
Namka Cbu, and no time was allowed for the prepara- 
tion of such a base, because of political urgency. The 
Brigade was to arrange for its own casualty evacuation, re- 
supply arrangements and sundry other mundane details. 
* * * 

A variety of astonished gazes greeted Kaul’s 
announcement. The reaction of the audience was one of 
incredulity' and disbelief. Lt.-Col. Rikh looked at me 
with consternation clearly visible on his strong face. 
Gen. Prasad looked as if he was pole-axed. I was stunned 
and rendered speechless for a few minutes. Lt.-Col. 
Aliluwalia secretly thanked his lucky star that he had 
been spared, this time anyway. Lt.-Col. Misra mur- 
mured to me that the Chinese would nape out anyone 
who tried to establish a post on the North bank of the 
Namku Chu. Gen. Kaul at first had the smug look 
of a conjuror holding the rabbit by the cars, later he 
had a look of defiance as if daring anyone to question 
his orders. 

Rikh took me aside and gave vent to his anger. 
He told me bluntly that he could not sec his way to 
moving Ins battalion into the blue without reconnais- 
sances, without a military task and without the basic 
requirements. He said flatly that the order was a mad 
one and demanded to know' what I intended to do about 
it- I just looked helplessly and had no answer to 
give him. 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


289 


' I had never before been placed in such an awkward 
predicament. Here was the Corps Commander issuing 
orders in front of the COs and other young officers. 
How was I to contradict him or argue with him in 
public? Kaul held an unorthodox “order group” to 
forestall argument. There was no question of “making 
plans together, appreciating each other’s point of view, 
taking joint decisions or having interesting pow-wows” 
-as Kaul has since tried to make out. In any case 
military plans are not made after holding pow-wows. 
In battle there are no joint decisions. A plan devised 
by a million brains is still signed by one man; and that 
man assumes responsibility for it. Kaul was very fond 
of name-dropping and I am not sure whether the 
Cabinet did actually give him a fixed dead-line. As far 
as we were concerned this was the second time that 
we were being asked to be “Lions in action and dogs 
in obedience . 

After a while I raised a few difficulties about 
moving and maintaining the Rajputs in Yumtsola, even 
if the Chinese permitted us to do so. When I pointed 
out the shortage of snow-clothing, Kaul blithely 
informed us that 6,000 sets had been ordered and were 
being flown out from Canada. Of course they could 
not arrive before the Rajputs left the next day. There 
was no solution offered for the poser of how the Rajputs 
were to survive at 16,000 feet till the cargo planes landed. 

When the question of artillery cover was raised he 
first said that “Determined Infantry do not need 
artillery”, thus topping Lord Haig’s faux pas when he said 
in 1912 “Artillery only seems likely to be really effective 
against raw troops”. When pressed he said that he 
would arrange to drop more para-guns. These too 
would arrive after the Rajputs had settled down next 
to our Chinese friends on Yumtsola. God knows when 
the gun teams would arrive from Agra. 

'Hie requirements of porters ■was settled by the 
promise to send us all the Border Roads Pioneers from 



290 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Towang. We were still waiting for our Lumpu loads 
to be “hastened forward”. 

Everything was in the future except the move of 
the Rajputs. There was a great deal of reluctance on 
our part to share Kaul’s optimism and self-confidence. 
We could not subscribe to the curious assumption that 
by ignoring realities, the realities themselves will dis- 
appear. In sheer desperation I asked Kaul to have a 
patrol sent before committing the whole battalion. He 
agreed: and it was decided that a platoon under 
Major Chaudhry be sent, as he knew the ground. The 
task given was to cover the move of the Rajputs; find 
a crossing place and above all to ascertain the Chinese 
reaction to our crossing the Namka Chu. 

The decision to cross the Namka Chu on 9th 
October was thus not based on any earlier Brigade 
plan. An advance patrol was sent in pursuance of 
Kaul’s order to send the Rajputs to Yumtsola, on 
10th October, to mitigate the rashness of blundering 
blindfolded into the Chinese defences. 

Kaul has gone on record as saying that the Tseng- 
Jong patrol leu on the 8th. In fact it left on the 9tn. 
The true date is material. According to the Chinese: 
“Tseng-Jong (Chitung of the Chinese) was occupied by 
a batch of Indian troops on 9th October 1962” - vide 
the White Paper No. VII, p. 106. 

Major Johori commenting on the variation in 
dates, says: “Therefore it seems logical to believe the 
Chinese^ version. If 9th October was the date of 
occupation of Tseng-Jong it is evident that the Corps 
Commander Kaul discussed the plan of operation of 
evicting the Chinese from the south of Thagla Ridge 
in the conference, otherwise it beats one’s imagination 
why the Corps Commander was there at all for a week. 
Briefly, the surmise that Tseng-Jong was occupied by a 
company of Rajputs after the approval of the Corps 
Commander is correct and logical”. Major Johori has 
arrived at the right conclusion, except that it was a 



A SOLDIER UNINHIBITED 


291 


Punjabi patrol which had been sent and not a Rajput 
detachment. 

* * * 

That night 9th October Brigadiers K. K. Singh and 
M. R. Rajwade fetched up at Bridge IV exhausted and 
incapable of any constructive thinking or planning. 
They both flopped down and could not work up enough 
energy to have dinner. I do not say this with malice. 
It is a tribute to their grit and fitness that they did 
not succumb to the heights as happened in the case 
of the senior Corps Artillery Commander, who stayed 
behind. 

It was the height of folly to drag them to Dhola 
before IV Corps had even been set up and when a 
battle was being hatched for the 10th. Lt.-Col. San- 
jeeva Rao the GSO I had already accompanied Kaul 
and here was the Brigadief General Staff, thus leaving 
no responsible ‘G’ Branch officer in Tezpur. Would 
any commander anticipating war, or planning an 
“operation’*, permit this? The staff must be at the 
HQ, attending to the myriad duties that are part of 
any battle. Instead they were swanning around when 
the Chinese attacked the next day. Dhola was littered 
with red-hatted senior officers, observers who had no 
role to perform, except to add “more brass than steel” 
to the proceedings. I cannot help feeling that they 
had been invited to witness the Grand Finale -the 
Super-Galwan. 

And so we move on to the fateful day of 10th 
October 1962 when, for the first time in history, 
regular^ soldiers of China and India fought a pitched 
battle in the remote Thagla area, on an arena which 
was 15,000 feet above sea level. To paraphrase Sir 
Winston Churchill, “The days of pious words, virtuous 
motives and brave utterances were about to bow to the 
armed and resolute wickedness of the Chinese”. 

David had flexed his arm to throw his pebble at 
Goliath! 



Chapter XV 


The Clash At Tseng- Jong— 10th October 1962 

The patrol of 9 Punjab, ’ under Major Ghaudhry, 
reached Tseng-Jong before dusk on 9th October. Like 
all the place names in this area, Tseng-Jong was just 
a herder’s hut. They had reconnoitred two suitable 
crossing places for the Rajputs, and had left small 
detachments at each place. One of these later became 
famous as *Log Bridge’. 

Ghaudhry and his 50 odd men were heavily 
attacked, at 5-00 a.m. on 10th October, by some 800 
Chinese supported by heavy mortars. The Punjabis 
stood their ground with incredible gallantry in the 
face of overwhelming odds. Ghaudhry had sent one 
section to the foot of Karpola II peak (not to be 
confused with Karpola I Pass), from where it brought 
withering and accurate enfilade fire on the assaulting 
Chinese. The Chinese, caught by surprise, suffered 
heavy casualties. They were forced to call off the 
first assault, but quickly re-formed and mounted simul- 
taneous attacks from three directions. The Punjabis, 
outnumbered by 20 to 1, were overwhelmed. Major 
Chaudhry was wounded but carried on with great 
determination and courage. We had six dead and 
eleven wounded. The Chinese admitted to 100 
casualties, mostly incurred in the initial assault. 

The “swift and massive retribution” for our attempt 
to disturb tne be-jaclo boundary shook Gen. Kaui, uhti 
saw the first Chinese attack develop. His first reaction 
was one of disbelief, shock and disillusionment. “Oh 
my God”, he cried, “You are right, they mean business”. 
That is what we had been trying to tell him all along 
but he had preferred to believe the clap-trap prevalent 
in Delhi. His moment of “challenging grandeur” had 
turned into disaster. 



The clash at tseng-jong 


293 


He then turned to me, “This is your battle. This 
is a brigade battle”. As soon as we got into trouble 
the battle became a brigade one; hitherto we had been 
talking of obeying Cabinet decisions, and everybody 
was doing the planning for and commanding this one 
brigade. 

It was most fortunate that the Chinese attack was 
mounted before 2 Rajput had crossed the Namka Chu, 
en route to Yumtsola, as otherwise they would have been 
exterminated. They were being committed to a possible 
battle, at a height of 15,000/16,000 feet (after an 
almost vertical climb from about 10,500 feet), with only 
100 rounds per man. Their move would have been 
observed throughout by the Chinese on Thagla Ridge, 
and they would have arrived completely exhausted. 
Even if die Chinese had consented to the occupation of 
Yumtsola, they could have perished in the severe cold 
without the Chinese firing a single round; and there 
was nothing that could have been done to save them. 
The Chinese could afford to ignore the garrison at 
Yumtsola. It would be helpless without the pipe-line 
through which it had to be maintained. The only 
thing the Chinese had to do was to retain their inter- 
ceptor posts, close the doors and the battalion on the 
mountainous slope would gradually atrophy and perish 
of starvation. I am certain that if the Chinese had any 
inkling that we would do anything as unsound as 
sending a battalion to Yumtsola they would have waited 
and massacred the battalion while it was moving, in 
broad daylight or gradually starved it to death. 

Soon after the firing started I took Gen. Prasad 
aside and told him to tell Gen. Kaul to stop talking of 
evicting the Chinese, take a realistic view of the naked 
military situation and pull us back. I expressed the 
same view to Gen. Kaul when he later asked for my 
opinion. I told the two Generals that we should 
abandon the Namka Chu at once, except for our 
established flag-posts. Lumpu should be restored as 



294 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


the main dropping zone with Tsangdhar as a minor 
auxiliary one for the company at Bridges III and IV. 
We should no longer waste valuable air effort and 
supply dropping equipment on Fairchild Packet drops. 
I reminded them that we now had only four days’ 
rations for my Brigade. The reserve stocks with Major 
Chaudhry’s company (about 100 men) had been 
whittled down to four days for a force of two battalions 
of about 1,000 men. The scanty drops at Tsangdhar, 
coupled with the lack of porters, meant that we would 
not be able to ensure our survival either tactically or 
administratively. The Chinese were at that time estimated 
to be a full division. 

Both the Generals agreed with my advice. 

During these discussions the position of my Brigade 
was grim. The Punjab patrol was being pulverised at 
Tseng-Jong. 2 Rajput were moving in single file 
towards the ‘Log Bridge* en route to Yumtsola. Battalion 
HQ was passing Bridge IV when the firing started and 
our men were visible to the Chinese dug-in on the 
opposite bank. In Kaul’s words, “I saw the 2 Rajput 
rushing towards the Log Bridge as they had been 
ordered the previous day to take over that position as 
also one at Tseng-Jong. Our men were rushing up 
to various positions”. 

Gen. Kaul saw the Tseng-Jong retribution for 
himself and says that he “fully understood all the 
implications, of our predicament; and thought that the 
whole position in this theatre should be reconsidered”. 
The stunning Chinese blow had chastened him and he 
was no longer inclined, to believe that the Chinese could 
be bluffed out of their impregnable redoubts or that 
there could be peaceful co-existence on the mountain 
slopes of Thagla. The dynamic optimist had vanished. 
Kaul appreciated “the superiority of the Chinese in 
every respect, the untenability of our position in the 
Dhola area located in a hollow, the various shortages 
which could not be made up in a few days, the lack of 



THE CLASH AT TSENG-JONG 


295 


fire-power, the Giiinese build-up to a division and the 
Chinese determination to prevent the establishment of 
any Indian positions north of the Namka Chu”. 

Flying in the face of this correct diagnosis we were 
soon to witness a crowning act of folly. Wc adopted 
the worst possible course of action having regard to 
the adverse factors. Although the trial of strength 
had demonstrated the Chinese capability and intentions, 
and the perilous risks spoke only too eloquently, Kaul 
could not nerve himself to call off the engagement and 
take the tactical decision to occupy defensible ground 
elsewhere. He wanted to consult Mr. Nehru. He 
gave the impression that a decision to restore the 
stains quo ante 5th October, could only be taken after 
he had apprised the Cabinet of the local situation and 
obtained fresh orders. After the failure of our ill- 
conceived sally, what was the point of waiting for Delhi 
to give clearance for a straightforward tactical decision? 
Perhaps Kaul did not want to be accused of with- 
drawing and facing the taunts of his professional enemies 
and unfriendly politicians. Perhaps he wanted to take 
shelter under “higher orders”. 

In the meanwhile he was content to leave 7 Brigade 
in a perilous position, cliff-hanging, at the mercy of the 
Chinese and -without the tools to defend itself. Here 
was the most powerful General of the Indian Army, 
who had earlier accused others of selecting wrong 
positions and criticised them for being post-offices, 
rendered impotent. In the moment of supreme crisis 
he failed to accept responsibility for obligatory decisions. 
The senior commander was bound to extricate the 
Brigade from the position in which it had been placed. 

Many before him have made this discovery, many 
after him will find out: failure to measure up to the 
high promise, shown in peace-time soldiering. Mrs. 
Barbara Tuchman has made this apt comment, in her 
excellent book, The Guns Of August : “When the moment 
of live ammunition approaches, the- moment to which 



296 


Himalayan blunder 


all Ills professional training has been directed, when 
the lives of the men under him, the issue of the combat, 
even the fate of the campaign may depend on his 
decision at a given moment, what happens inside the 
hearts and vitals of a commander? Some are made 
bold by the moment, some irresolute, some carefully 
judicious, some paralysed and powerless to act”. 

In which category can we place - Kaul at that 
supreme moment of his baptism? Let Kaul’s own 
orders tell us. Kaul told Gen. Prasad “that the 
instructions to drive away the enemy were to be held 
in abeyance till I return from Delhi. In the meantime 
he was to hold his present positions”. Prasad had no 
“positions” till Kaul placed 7 Brigade in the Namka 
Chu ! Kaul gave himself the role of a “messenger” of 
Prime Ministerial orders in his “moment of decision”. 
He was powerless to act. 

* * * 

Kaul sincerely believes that he never gave an order 
personally, and no position fell because of any unsound 
order that he gave. He personally gave these orders 
before he left Dhola for Delhi, on 10th October 1962. 

(a) The instructions to drive the enemy out were to 
be held in abeyance till he returned from Delhi. 

(b) In the meanwhile we were to hold our position, 
i.e. the South Bank of the Namka Chu and 
“ensure the security of the crossings from 
Temporary Bridge to Bridge I at all costs.” 

(c) Our position on the North Bank (Tsangle) 
was to be held at the discretion of the GOC 
4 Division. He stipulated, however, that 
there was to be no withdrawal from Tsangle 
until the company was actually threatened by 
the Chinese. 

(d) Line of Communication via Lumpu will be 
protected. 

(f) Hathungla will be held. 



THE CLASH AT TSENG-JONG 


297 


Kaul went a step further and personally gave 
orders to the CO of the Rajputs as well. He told Rikh 
not to advance any further as the situation had now 
changed and the enemy had reacted more violently 
than he had originally appreciated. He then ordered 
Rikh to “hold the south bank of the Namka Chu with 
one company each at Temporary Bridge, Bridge IV 
and Bridge III”. Rikh pointed out that these positions 
would be dominated by the Thagla Ridge and in the 
event of a Chinese attack they could not be held. 
Kaul countered this by telling him that we were going 
into defence only temporarily and that the enemy 
would not attack if we remained on the south bank. 
Kaul emphasised to Rikh that we must not give up a 
single inch of territory we held. 

Dhola later fell, because he ordered the holding of 
useless logs, in the face of a militarily hopeless situation. 
We could neither defend the Namka Chu nor could 
the Namka Chu defend us! As Napoleon once said to 
Marshal Berthier when he found troops deployed 
in linear fashion: “Is the object of these operations the 
prevention of contraband?” What was Kaul’s object? 

Had Kaul withdrawn 7 Brigade to Lumpu where 
he had found it in the first place and presented the 
Cabinet with a fait accompli the Brigade might not have 
been captive in the Namka Chu. No cabinet in the 
world would have dared to indicate the actual localities 
to be held. Kaul had taken on a grave military 
responsibility by bowing to the primacy of politics but 
he had still in no way renounced the prerogative of 
military leadership in his own exclusive sphere. 

The decision to hold the ‘Present Position 1 on 10th 
October, after the Chinese attack on our patrol, was 
Gen. Haul’s third blunder. 

Fearing a Chinese reaction to the Tseng-Jong 
skirmish, I gave the two Generals an escort of one 
Gorkha company, under Major Pawar. I told Pawar 
to stay at Bridge I till he was relieved by 4 Grenadiers 



298 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


whom I was expecting soon, and who would be respon- 
sible for the Hathungla route. The layout of the 
Brigade was now chaotic. The Rajputs at Bridges III 
and IV had one of their companies at Bridge I under 
the Punjabis. I had sent this company on 25th 
September to relieve a Punjabi company for recon- 
naissance duties in the Tsangle area. The Punjabis 
had a company at Tsangle, about 12 miles to the west. 
Now the Gorkhas would have a company on the 
Hathungla - Bridge I approach. All this was the 
result of hurry and panic. It would be some days 
before companies could be reshuffled and a semblance 
of orthodox command and control restored. 

* * * 

After Gen. Kaul left with his entourage I turned 
to the Tseng-Jong battle which was raging furiously. 
I could watch the fight from Bridge IV, and had a 
grand-stand view of each detail of the battle. Every 
soldier can judge my feelings as I watched the brave 
Punjabis being hammered by the superior Chinese 
Force. To me it seemed a senseless waste of lives. 
I damned the pernicious theory of positional warfare 
and playing games of sitting beliind the Chinese. 
Damn this non-violent kind of war! 

I was soon called upon to go through the most 
agonising hour of my life. Major Chaudhry made a 
desperate appeal for mortar and machine-gun fire to 
extricate his force. Col. Misra relayed this request to 
me and added his own urgent plea for help. I was 
standing very near our machine-guns and mortars at 
Bridge XV. The crews of these -weapons also begged 
me to allow them to open fire, and help their brethren. 

I, and I alone, am responsible for the decision not 
to allow the mortars and machine-guns to open up. 
My aim was to extricate this patrol without further loss 
of life, and -without exposing the main body to massacre. 
As the Commander on the spot, I had to take a broader 
view of the pros and cons of escalating a minor engage- 



THE CLASH AT TSENG-JONG 


299 


ment into an all-out battle, along a 12-mile front. It 
is a cardinal principle that the security of the main 
body is the prime responsibility of a commander and 
this security must not be jeopardised for any reason 
whatsoever, and never to assist a small detachment. 

My first and over-riding reason was that Tseng- 
Jong was out of range of effective fire. The range of 
both weapons is approximately 2,700 yards and Tseng- 
Jong was beyond that range. Besides, the patrol had 
no mobile fire controllers to engage targets. So on 
purely technical grounds I could not guarantee to assist 
the patrol by covering fire. 

I could possibly have taken on, by direct observ- 
ation, the Chinese reinforcements moving to Tseng- 
Jong, after the failure of the first Chinese assault. This 
movement could be clearly observed by me and the 
weapon crews. Butin doing so I would be igniting the 
entire front and inviting retaliation and reprisals against 
my force on the south bank, without being certain 
that I would actually be helping the small detachment. 
Here are my reasons as I saw them at the time: 

(a) The Rajputs were milling about trying to find 
cover and take up positions between Bridges 
III and IV and Log Bridge. They would 
have been mowed down, in the open, by the 
Chinese machine-guns across the narrow 
Namka Ghu. The same fate would have 

« befallen the Gorkhas. 

(b) Even if J had decided to risk the eonseqjjencejy 
I knew that I could not sustain a fire-fight 
for long. My weapons were sited in a small 
open patch directly in front of the Chinese. 
There were no alternative positions due to 
the heavy undergrowth (and hence lack of 
fields of fire), on the higher slopes. If I opened 
up I would be placed in the ridiculous position 
of having my mortars silenced by enemy 
small arms fire. 



300 


Himalayan blunder 


(c) I had two 3-inch mortars with 60 rounds per 
mortar; and two machine-guns with 12,000 
rounds (barely sufficient for half an hour at 
normal rates). I would have exhausted this 
ammunition in a few minutes and would have 
been disarmed. 

(d) The men had only 50 rounds per man, and 
500 rounds per light machine-gun and were 
not prepared for a major engagement. 

(*) Gen. Kaul was moving post-haste to Bridge I, 
on his way to Delhi. His route was, through- 
out, parallel to the Chinese positions along 
the Namka Ghu, and he would have to pass 
Bridges I and II. I could not risk starting a 
widespread exchange of fire and jeopardise 
his chance of reaching Delhi. Kaul was on 
a mission that had vital bearing on the fate 
of my Brigade, and serious implications for 
India. 

Looking back on events I am convinced that the 
Chinese were waiting for an opportunity to substantiate 
their claim that they counter-attacked in self-defence. 
They would have had an excuse if I had used my puny 
resources against their assembled might. Even without 
any overt action on our part they claimed we had 
attacked them first and misled even some of our friends. 
The over-enthusiastic Indian Press, * and jubilant 
Government servants made much of a skirmish that 
was nothing more than an attempt to set up a post, 
in our own territory, in an area which had not been 
occupied by the Chinese and which was contemp- 
tuously repelled. 

With a heavy heart I saw the Punjabis disengage, 
on my orders, to Bridge IV. The casualties came 
directly to Log Bridge, under the noses of the Chinese 
who had evidently decided to allow us to use a route 
which they were controlling. Very cleverly they con- 
tinued to give the impression that they did not want J 



301 


THE CLASH AT TSENG-JONG 

war, but that if we crossed the Namka Ghu they would 
resist. 

Some time later I could see the Chinese burying 
our dead, with full military honours. It was a moving 
sight and certainly made an impression on the men 
who could also watch the proceedings. All this was 
part of the Chinese plan to win over the sympathy of 
the jawan, and suborn his will to fight. 

No event of the short war caused more heated 
and lingering controversy, both in India and abroad 
and gathered more layers of dispute than the skirmish 
of 10th October. The Tseng-Jong action was not a 
battle, in the true sense. The Chinese attacked our 
patrol which was inside our territory. We did NOT 
attack first. Indeed we had no means to ward off a 
Chinese attack, let alone mount one ourselves. The 
Chinese used this incident to launch a canard that 
India had started the NEFA War and that the Chinese 
did nothing but defend themselves. Unfriendly and 
uninformed commentators have been inclined to swallow 
the Chinese line. It would be an insane commander 
who would even entertain a fleeting thought of launching 
an attack, having regard to the relative military positions 
of the two sides, on 10th October. 

The point to be stressed is that the Tseng-Jong 
skirmish was not a prepared operation against the 
Chinese defences on Thagla Ridge. It was a hurried 
resumption of a weary advance to set up a post on the 
Thagla Ridge. Exhausted by days of marching over 
massive heights and appalling weather conditions, 
troops badly in need of a breather and the tools for 
war, were merely ordered to keep going to Yumtsola. 
A plan was devised, by Gen. Kaul, which would work 
only as long as the Chinese desisted from using the full 
military power which was available to them. Kaul 
himself has confessed: “We had occupied this position 
(Tseng-Jong) in the hope that so long as we held a 
particular piece of ground, it would remain ours and 



THE CLASH AT TSENG-JONG 


303 


eviction. In this premise everybody was wrong - 
politicians, civilians, soldiers, strategists, diplomats, and 
pandits. 

Thus ended the momentous day of 10th October 
1962. It was the point of no return. “David had 
cast his pebble — and missed!” 



Part V 

The Battle at the Namka Chu 
River 



308 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


This was the third battalion that had been catapulated 
from the plains and employed without any acclimati- 
sation. My force was now about 2,500 men. 

The efforts of our troops to cut logs with entrenching 
tools and shovels were pathetic and openly derided by 
the Chinese who could sec us. They had a lavish scale 
of mechanical saws and could build defences and bunkers 
at an incomparably faster rate. 

On 13th October some 150 Border Roads Pioneers 
arrived to assist us in carrying loads and collecting 
air-drops atTsangdhar. By 16th October we had a 
total of 450. In the event they proved an embarrass- 
ment as they had come without rations and winter 
clothing, forcing me to deplete my meagre stocks, 
to feed and clothe them. I now had barely two days 
rations for my command. 

Kaul reached Delhi on the evening of I Ith October 
and went straight into a conference with the Prime 
Minister, the Defence Minister, the Army and Air 
Chiefs, and the Secretaries of the Cabinet, External 
Affairs and Defence. At last a body resembling the 
Defence Committee of the Cabinet was convened to 
handle the grim impasse. 

After explaining the situation at Dhola, Gen. Kaul 
claims that he pointed out that: 

(a) If we attacked the Chinese, as things stood, 
then we were bound to have a reverse. We 
should therefore pull out of Dhola and go to 
a more suitable area tactically from where 
we could fighjt them better. 

(b) The Dhola area would soon be snowbound 
when it would be impossible to maintain it 
any longer. 

(c) Whatever build-up we might achieve opposite 
Thagla, the enemy with their superior resources 
and approach, could oust us (and in the 
process weaken us at our other fronts). 



‘defend your present positions 


309 


(d) The Chinese were in a better position to build 
a superior force due to good communications 
behind their forward position, an advantage 
we did not enjoy. 

I must interpolate a comment here. Had the 
Chinese communications improved between 5th and 
10th October? It was not necessary to have the 
bloodshed of 10th October to highlight the factual 
position that had been self-evident since mid-September. 

Having belatedly analysed and portrayed the 
adverse military situation vis-a-vis China correctly, Kaul 
had a glorious opportunity to retrieve the position, but 
for some inexplicable reason he offered the august 
assembly three choices: 

(а) Whether I (Kaul) should continue building 
up this sector ana launch an attack on the 
Chinese despite their superiority and possi- 
bility of a reverse. 

(б) OR to cancel the orders of an attack but hold 
our present positions; 

(c) OR to hold a more advantageous position 
elsewhere. 

Gen. Kaul tells us that, on the advice of the Army 
Chief and the Army Commander, Mr. Nehru agreed 
that, instead of attacking the Chinese under these 
circumstances, we should hold on to our present 
positions. 

The three choices offered by Kanl, to the Cabinet 
was a capital blonder. 

Kaul was ill-advised to offer three choices, at 
such a high-powered meeting. It was abundantly clear 
that there was only one choice, and that was to hold a 
more advantageous position elsewhere, the course 
recommended by Gen. Prasad and myself and accepted 
by him. He exceeded his brief when he talked of 
building up^ for an attack, or of holding on to our 
present positions. In Kaul’s own words: “I was 



310 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


advised by my Divisional Commander that I should go 
to Delhi and ask the Army HQ, and the Government 
not to press us to expel the Chinese from this area, a 
task which was far beyond our capacity and that we 
should occupy a position where we could be better 
placed vis-a-vis the enemy. Dalvi had the same view. 
I agreed both with the Divisional and Brigade 
Commanders”. 

Let us analyse these choices. The Chinese now 
had at least one strong division. It would require three 
divisions and at least an Army Group Artillery to 
dislodge them, on the basis of the minimum superiority 
of three to one. There was no earthly hope of any 
such reinforcements by air, on the pint-sized dropping 
zone, or across the footpaths over the Hathungla and 
Karpola I Passes. The build-up of the dimensions 
implicit in Kaul’s offer was out of the question. Kaul 
might have misled the members of the meeting when he 
mentioned a continued build-up as a possible course. 
He also made the unwarranted assumption that there 
would be a great deal of inaction on the part of the 
Chinese, while we were furiously “building-up!” 

Holding on to our present positions was an equally 
questionable recommendation. To hold a low-lying 
“death-trap” in the face of an enemy holding high 
ground is at all times impossible. The troops were 
doomed in the absence of artillery support and defence 
stores. A brigade in deliberate defence can hold 
approximately 3,000 yards: and 7 Brigade was spread- 
over . 12 miles, or nearly 20,000 yards. Artillery is 
required for defensive fire to break up enemy assaults; 
for counter-bombardment to silence enemy guns and 
for neutralising infantry’ weapons which assist the 
enemy’s final assault when artillery cover cannot 
be used due to the safety factor. How did Kaul 
envisage the provision of this massive support? In 
deliberate defence the defender lays mines and wire 
entanglements, with booby traps, to break up the final 



'defend your present positions” 


3X1 


charge as well as to canalise his movements. Where 
were these vast quantities to come from? 

In other words, Kaul entertained the prospect of 
holding a 12-mile linear defence, the so-called “present 
positions”, without reserves, without depth and with 
one unsupported brigade. Kaul messed up the last 
chance of bringing sanity to our high-level thinking by 
his unfortunate offer of three alternatives. In doing 
so he did not display that intimate knowledge of the 
capability and requirements of an infantry battle 
that one would expect from a General, especially rated 
as outstanding by the Prime Minister of the Nation. 
The essential elements of the appreciation of the 
situation, on which he was bound to base his 
advice were virtually eliminated. Kaul had turned his 
back on the realities which he had fully understood, 
after the skirmish of 10th October. He neatly passed 
the onus for taking further decisions to his political 
bosses and military superiors. 

The Indian Government was then at bay. It was 
committed to challenging the Chinese intrusion to 
pacify public opinion, and knew that an impossible 
military situation had been cleverly created by the 
Chinese. And so when a trusted and responsible senior 
General, who knew the ground and the military setting 
offered them the remote hope of continuing to maintain 
“a state of no victory and no defeat”, they grasped the 
chance. We cannot blame Mr. Nehru for accepting 
Kaul’s course of “holding our present positions!” 
There was by now an ominous roar from an aroused 
public. Government had become a prisoner of its own 
facile pronouncements. Perhaps it was still dominated 
by hopes of Chinese good behaviour if we made no 
further attempt to alter the status quo in the Thagla- 
Dhola area. In any case events thereafter got on to 
certain lines and no one could get them off again. 

Mr. Nehru’s now infamous, off-the-cuff verbal 
broadside to the Press on 12th October, while on his 



312 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


way to Colombo was, in my opinion influenced by the 
rather wooly choices presented to him. That is perhaps 
why he was prompted to say that the actual date for 
evicting the Chinese was being left to the Army. 
According to The Statesman of 13th October 1962, the 
text of Mr. Nehru’s statements reads “For the first time 
since the NEFA Operations began Mr. Nehru cate- 
gorically stated that the armed forces had been ordered 
to throw the Chinese aggressors out of NEFA. Our 
instructions are to free our territory”. But asked how 
soon this would happen, he replied, “I cannot fix a 
date. That is entirely for the Army”. 

Mr. Nehru’s choice of words was characteristically 
unhappy. It was true to his aristocratic and impulsive 
nature which on many occasions resulted in uninhibited 
statements which had unfortunate reperscussions. The 
plain fact is that he committed one of the great faux-pas 
of modern times. He should not have used the phrase 
“throw out” when referring to a major power, and 
especially the Chinese who are proud and sensitive. 
More than once I was told that they were deeply 
offended by Mr. Nehru’s statement. One Chinese 
Officer said, “The Americans cannot throw us out, 
what can you miserable Indians do to us. How dare 
you talk like this about the mighty Chinese People”. 

It will be appreciated that we as soldiers were 
considerably shaken by political leadership of this kind. 
The decision to permit military action is, after all, the 
gravest that a head of State ever has to take. Gen. 
Sen told me many {months later that he was thunder- 
struck when he heard Nehru’s statement, especially 
after the briefing and the decision taken the previous 
night. I myself heard this amazingly casual remark 
over All-India Radio’s 1.30 p.m. news. I called 
Gen. Prasad and asked him to confirm whether I was 
to accept operation orders from All-India Radio, or 
whether I shoud await his orders. Sarcasm was the 
only weapon I had left. 



‘DEFEND YOUR PRESENT POSmONS 


313 


The delay between 10th and 13th October was 
sinister and oppressive. I was on tenterhooks to know 
the outcome of Kaul’s meeting ■with the Cabinet. Alas, 
on 13th October Kaul sent a signal confirming the 
verbal orders of the 10th viz. “to hold our positions”. 
The Namka Chu was “no longer a place but a principle”. 
When I got this message I could no longer overcome a 
feeling of impending calamity. This disastrous order 
was sent as another slogan, as there was no Information 
about the enemy or Own Troops; no Method para- 
graph to indicate what the rest of IV Corps would be 
doing to achieve this task; no Administrative instructions 
to spell out the arrangements for our maintenance. 
The brief signal was a clear portent of things to come 
and settled the fate of 7 Brigade which was to be left 
to fend for itself in the remote Namka Chu Valley 
dependent on an erratic air supply system and at the 
mercy of the Chinese massed on Thagla. 7 Brigade 
could no longer help itself. Its thinking had been 
done for it. It had merely to carry out a suicidal 
assignment with no scope to influence its fate. With- 
put a doubt, there had been some cardinal blundering 
in ordaining the task of securing the crossings over the 
Namka Chu, “at all costs”. As Clausewitz has said: 
“Military plans which leave no room for the unexpected 
can lead to disaster”. The “unexpected” in this case 
was the probability of a massive. Chinese attack against 
the weak Indian garrison. 

Kaul does not assume responsibility for this order 
as he considers that he was merely obeying the fresh 
directions which he had received from the Prime 
Minister. He affirms, “I was told to hold these places 
by higher authorities and they fell for causes which 
lay beyond my control”. What may we ask was Kaul’s 
role and function in October 1962? Why did he not 
demand (as did Field Marshal Manstein) : “As long 
as I remain at this post, however, I must have a chance 
to use my own head”? 



Chapter XVII 


Feverish Activity — 13th /19th October 1962 

The period !3th to 19th October was one of grave 
anxiety and foreboding. The trap was closing. The 
Chinese build-up mounted in ever-increasing tempo 
from their 7-ton road-head at Marmang, which was 
only a few miles from Thagla. They used sturdy 
Tibetan ponies right up to their forward localities. 
They were industriously and methodically fortifying 
their positions with the thoroughness and skill which 
they had demonstrated to the World in the Korean 
War. Order groups were seen receiving orders, and 
artillery personnel were brazenly taking bearings on 
our positions for silent registration of targets. They 
brought guns and mortars across Thagla Ridge on 
ponies and positioned them opposite Bridges III and IV. 
They even brought a jeep type vehicle to Thagla. I saw 
an elderly officer, -with an impressive fur hat being 
treated with great deference — obviously a general. 

I had deployed 25 observation posts to watch the 
Chinese build-up and to report their activities. These 
posts were actually able to count the number of mortar 
bombs and shells dumped. On 19th October one of the 
observation posts above Temporary Bridge actually 
counted 1,978 armed Chinese soldiers concentrated at 
Tseng-Jong. All the Chinese traffic was duly reported 
in special situation reports, and was known to all con- 
cerned. We were mute witnesses of our own impending 
destruction. 

We had to stand by helplessly, as we were out- 
weaponed, out-numbered and tethered to indefensible 
ground, with the order to defend useless logs of wood 
at all costs. My troops continued their feverish pre- 
parations but were handicapped by the complete lack 



FEVERISH ACTIVITY 


315 


of axes, saws, cutting tools and a total lack of defence 
stores, which should have been air-dropped to us. The 
men were growing weary of being eternally on guard, 
exhorted to defend what could not be defended. 

During this time four para-field guns were dropped, 
but two were damaged beyond local repair. The gun- 
teams marched across Karpola I, and they too suffered 
grievously and had fatal casualties as they had been 
rushed from the heat of Agra. By 19th October 421 
rounds of ammunition were collected. One troop of 
4.2-inch mortars, (4 mortars), was sent to me on a 
man-pack basis. We managed to build up a stack of 
450 bombs for this troop before the Chinese attack on 
20th October. Both these weapons were out-ranged 
by the Chinese infantry mortar which has a range of 
about 7,000 yards. This is a farcical state of affairs as 
no one has ever heard of the Artillery Arm being out- 
ranged by the Infantry. There were no suitable gun 
sites along the Namka Chu Valley and the guns and 
mortars had to be deployed at Tsangdhar, further 
reducing their effective range. Preliminary ranging 
was not permitted both for political reasons, because we 
did not want to start a fight and because ranging in the 
mountains is expensive in ammunition. We had no 
meteorological data on which to base predicted fire, an 
essential _ requirement in the mountains where the 
weather is variable and unpredictable. We had only 
two observation parties for the whole front. This was 
the artillery situation, for a 12-mile front l This is the 
result of going to war with a token corps. 

* * * 

The Medical arrangements for the troops deployed 
in the Namka Chu Valley were primitive in the extreme. 
From the very outset the medical set-up was frequently 
rendered ineffective due to ill-thought moves and 
counter-moves. Although 7 Brigade started moving to 
the Namka Chu from 10th September onwards it was 
not until 25th September that the Brigade Mobile 



316 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Surgical Team (MSU) and 24 Field Ambulance (Fd 
Amb) were able to leave from Towang for Lumpu 
(which they reached on 30th September) for lack of 
porters. 9 Punjab had no medical cover, other than 
the Regimental Aid Post (RAP) from 15th to 30th 
September; and even this was two days march across 
Hathungla Pass. The Chief's initial order, of 17th 
September, to evict the Chinese, would have found the 
Punjabis fighting a battle without any life-saving medical 
arrangements. The rash promises to concentrate at 
various dates and charge at the Chinese obviously did 
not cater for any medical units. If true, this was not 
only a major breach of the canons of planning, but also 
extremely callous. 

On arrival the HQ, of the Field Ambulance (MDS) 
with the MSU, was established at Lumpu. One 
company of the same unit (ADS) had been deployed 
along the Line of Communication from Towang to 
Lumpu to act as staging posts and to render medical 
aid to the many transients, who were suffering grievously 
for lack of acclimatisation. The second Advance 
Dressing Station (ADS) was sent to Tsangdhar on 6th 
October under Captain B. B. Kolay. This detachment 
had a most unenviable time; and a virtually impossible 
assignment, as they had to function at a height of 
14,000 feet without proper rations, clothing, shelters 
and medical supplies. They reached Tsangdhar on 
7th October, on a man-pack basis, with the main body 
of 7 Brigade. Despite their many difficulties they did 
an excellent job of life-saving. Captain Kolay had to 
deal with an average of 30/40 serious cases every day, 
and placed some 8/10 men on the “dangerously ill”, 
list. Almost all the cases were due to pulmonary 
oedema brought on by the lack of warm clothing, 
bedding and shelters. 

Prompt evacuation of casualties was well nigh 
impossible, as the only method was by helicopter - and 
the only helicopter available was one two-seater Bell. 



FEVERISH ACTIVITY 


317 


The normal channel was from the Namka Ghu by unit 
stretcher-bearers, to Tsangdhar; thence by the Bell to 
Ziminthaung: and to Tezpur in a larger helicopter. 
Each casualty required eight men as stretcher-bearers 
and the men had to be found by the units themselves, 
as the Brigade had no stretcher bearer-units. This was 
a further drain on units who were under-strength and 
who had to find their own collecting and carrying 
parties for air drops. Few men were left for preparing 
defences, patrolling by day and night and providing 
personnel for observation posts. This fact is sometimes 
overlooked by those who have criticised the Brigade 
defences. 

The wounded and sick had to be carried up steep 
and treacherous paths from about 10,500 feet to 14,500 
feet, for over eight hours. This was an ordeal as the 
stretcher was constantly tilted or put down as the bearers 
tumbled, slipped or got tired. The same men would 
be required to carry heavy stores from the dropping 
zone to their units, on the return journey. 

# I can find no words to adequately express my 
praise and gratitude for the courage, humanity and 
devotion to duty shown by Squadron Leader Williams 
of the Air Force, who, under grave risks, carried out 
non-stop sorties from dawn to dusk. His record for 
one day was 23 patients - the last take-off being in 
pitch darkness. I salute a brave officer. I was de- 
lighted to hear that he was decorated in recognition of 
his gallantry, the citation for which was rightly initiated 
by the grateful Army Medical Corps. 

The siting of the Surgical Team - the only early 
treatment unit within miles of the battle field, was 
subject to the same general confusion and inter- 
ference. Initially it had been located at Lumpu to 
treat the casualties of 9 Punjab. On 7th October, after 
Gen. Kaul had reached the Dhola area, he personally 
ordered the unit to set up shop at Bridge I, without 
consulting any senior medical adviser. Thus within a 



FEVERISH ACTIVITY 


319 


and work alongside the Field Ambulance, which had 
since been moved there. The Team reached Zimin- 
thaung on 16th October and was established on 18th 
October, only two days before the Chinese attack. 

The medical set up could barely cope with the 
numerous sick cases, and broke down completely when 
the Chinese attacked and captured Tsangdhar. It was 
now impossible to evacuate any casualties and that is 
the reason why the Chinese had so many wounded 
Indians on their hands. Medical aid is not a gift. It 
is a soldier’s right. It is a prime factor in the main- 
tenance of morale. Commanders who fail to provide 
proper facilities are not only guilty of negligence but 
of inhumanity. 

* • * * 

The supply arrangements were equally unsatis- 
factory. The main" base was at Tsangdhar from 8th 
October, Lumpu being relegated to a secondary, role. 
The set up was again improvised at the last minute. 
The Deputy Assistant Quarter Master General (DAQ 
MG), Major Kaushik, from HQ 4 Division, was. in 
charge of organising collection, storage and distribution 
to the troops on the River Bank. This ad hoc arrange- 
ment was forced on us by the lack of a proper" air supply 
chain of command. We should have had a Forward 
Airfield Supply Organisation. The DAQMG of .Divi- 
sion y did not have any actual units or sub-units to 
command or assist him. He had to make do with 
miscellaneous bodies from other supply units who were 
hurriedly despatched, on foot, to Tsangdhar — again 
without acclimatisation. Porters and carrying parties 
were provided by units manning the River Line. Later 
they were supplemented with Border Roads Pioneers. 

* * * 

There was no Army Ordnance set up and no 
system of indenting. Equally there was no system to 
ensure that units received their requirements in accord- 
ance with the priority laid down by the units themselves. 


320 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Demands were unprecedently high as units had arrived 
without basic items, and these had to be super-imposed 
on the battle requirements. The creaky administrative 
layout could not cope with this rush. Depots and 
dumps in the rear were alerted and they were sending 
what they thought the troops would want; or whatever 
they could lay their hands on first. We received in- 
numerable pairs of size 6 and size 12 boots ! For many 
days we could not get studs for Army boots as the item 
was "in short supply”. If there is any one single 
item that condemns our production/procurement/or 
stocking policy it is the lack of this humble, miserable, 
but vital item. Anyone who has tried to walk over a 
moss-covered boulder, in a new pair of Army boots 
without studs will understand the fury of the soldier 
at the persons responsible. Readers will also appreciate 
the enormity of the crimes of those who fed the 
Country' and the Army with tall talk of self-sufficiency 
in arms productions, grandiose plans to build planes 
and tanks, while leaving the Army short of this simple, 
indigenously produced item. The Generals who ordered 
men to move over 16,000-foot passes, in forced marches 
wearing these unshod boots are even more guilty of 
callous inhumanity. 

* * * 

4 Division’s Signals Regiment managed to get a 
telephone line through from Division to 7 Brigade over 
the Hathungla Pass. The line ran parallel to the 
Chinese forward defended positions for over seven miles, 
in violation of every principle of laying line in the 
battle zone. The line was useful for conducting all 
the futile conversations that preceded the Chinese 
attack, but served no purpose whatsoever after the 
assault, as it was inevitably cut. This was one more 
feverish military activity under Chinese observation to 
give the illusion of feverish military preparations. 



FEVERISH ACTIVITY ' 


321 


Throughout, we were in full view of the Chinese 
and no surprise was possible, nor hopes of purposeful 
camouflage. The Chinese could also be seen clearly, 
which fact did not do our morale any good. With 
their superiority and preparedness they made no attempt 
to conceal their movements or activities. They almost 
openly dared us to make the first overt move, as this 
would have suited their policy; and given them the 
excuse to carry out their famous “self-defence counter- 
attacks”. Even when we did not oblige them they 
went right ahead and exercised this inalienable right! 
* * * 

The tempo of air drops at Tsangdhar reached a 
climax between 15th and 19th October. Losses due 
to wild drops increased in direct proportion to the 
number of sorties, and only 30 per cent of stores reached 
the troops. This was nobody’s fault and certainly not 
the fault of the gallant pilots. It was impossible to 
drop supplies on so small a dropping zone from Fair- 
child Packet aircraft, without a large number of 
canisters going astray. It was infuriating to find loads 
landing a few feet inside the zone and then bouncing 
down a precipitous slope. Troops in contact were 
required to collect these drops. When I protested that 
I could not spare man-power for porters and yet 
prepare my defences, I was told to “retrieve or perish”. 
The journey to Tsangdhar and back took eight hours. 
After returning from this duty the men had to carry 
out sentry duties. We had no coloured parachutes to 
identify loads and thus units could not concentrate on 
collecting those stores which they required most urgently. 
In one case after an arduous descent through rhodo- 
dendron bushes, to a parachute, the men found broken 
snow-goggles. They were furious. 

Nobody in the rear would appreciate the principle 
of saturation of drops. The greater the tempo of air- 
drops, the less is^ actually collected. This may sound 
paradoxical but is a fact as the dropping zone has to 



322 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


be cleared while aircraft are actually dropping. In 
other words if aircraft drop from sunrise to sunset nothing 
is collected that day. Someone had bullied the Air 
Force to drop so many tons and they were damned 
well going to drop them! Tsangdhar was also in full 
view of the Chinese positions on the Thagla slopes. 
I saw many pictures of our air drops in the Chinese 
papers. They made a big play of our having dropped 
paratroopers, just before “The Indian frenzied attacks” 
on the morning of 20th October, which was the last 
straw that forced the innocent Chinese to launch their 
massive counter-attacks! 

* * * 

On 1 6th October I was able to set up my HQ at 
Rongla, about 1,000 yards from Dhola post. The 
location was not ideal but the only one possible in the 
circumstances, unless I went to Tsangdhar. I rejected 
this idea as the men and the CO’s were located near 
the Chinese, guarding the crossings, and could not 
therefore conform to the normal principles of siting 
battalion HQ’s. I could not be the only HQ, to be 
sited comfortably away from the River. The troops 
would not have understood why only Brigade HQ should 
adhere to normal procedures, while everyone else was 
being asked to violate them on the promise that the 
Chinese would not do anything big. I had to be near 
the men. Here I must express my 7 surprise at the fact 
that most books mitten about the NEFA Operations 
have placed 7 Brigade HQ at Tsangdhar. This is 
not true. 

* * * 

To relieve the monotony 7 of this litany 7 of ineptitude, 
let me relate some of the lighter moments, amidst the 
general gloom. They 7 were not funny at the time, but 
it seems incredible that we should have allowed, our- 
selves so much bathos. As long as day 7 to day decisions 
were centered at the highest levels, and there was a 
never-ending wait for general officer emissaries to return 
from Olympus with reasonable orders, the proletariate 



FEVERISH ACTIVITY 


323 


could not be in. a position, to take an intelligent and 
constructive interest in the proceedings. 

While all the hectic Chinese activity was in full 
swing, staff officers in the rear were blissfully unaware 
of the impending disasters. A young captain from 
Education Branch of Divisional HQ, sent my HQ a 
most severe reprimand, and demanded an explanation 
for not sending our “athletes” to Tezpur, for the Sidi 
Barrani Celebrations of 4 Division. Needless to say, 

I was hard put to offer a satisfactory explanation to 
this irate officer, who was probably struggling to prepare 
a list of invitees and an outline programme for the 
approval of his immediate boss! 

The senior staff officer on the administrative side 
sent me a personal rocket, on about 16tli October, die 
gist of which was that he was very “dissatisfied” with 
the rate of collection by forward troops. He issued 
“orders” that each infantry battalion will “with im- 
mediate effect” detail 200 men each day to collect 
drops. He threatened disciplinary action against de- 
faulting units. I envied this gentleman, sitting in 
remote Gauhati, his peace of mind and blissful ignorance 
of the impending pay-off for our years of neglect. He 
still retained unshakeable faith in the efficacy of threats, 
and a belief that the Indian Army Act was the magic 
abracadabra for getting things moving. He did not 
know that troops in battle require a cause and leader- 
ship and not threats. It is probable that he was not 
even aware that the men wctc facing a battle. He 
may have thought that we were still playing the old 
game of keeping track of the “progress of stocking”. 

When K.aul took over a non-existent corps he was 
faced with the unusual problem of finding somewhere 
to locate himself and his staff; and of scrounging some 
office equipment and communication facilities. He 
adopted the simple expedient of moving HQ 4 Division 
from their permanent location at Tezpur and appro- 
priating their established resources as well as their 



324 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


comfortable accommodation. The Divisional Com- 
mander “went forward to Ziminthaung to control opera- 
tions from nearer the front”. Everybody conveniently 
forgot that the GOC’s second brigade at Walong would 
now be over 300 miles away! Rear Division HQ, was 
consigned to Gauhati to do the work of Corps and 
Army units. There was no perceptible dislocation of 
command and control as there was only one infantry 
brigade facing the Chinese in NEFA, which everyone 
was commanding verbally. Basic orders were being 
issued at the highest level and transmitted at an equally 
high military level. Administration (including air 
supply) was the responsibility of Army or Corps HQ’s, 
thus rendering Divisional HQ useless and redundant. 
The Divisional staff was now unemployed and an 
embarrassment. This unprecedented situation required 
a novel solution. Viola! Why not send the surplus 
divisional staff officers to HQ 7 Infantry Brigade? As 
Division was not in a position to send me reasonable 
orders, or appreciations, or artillery or clothes or defence 
stores, the next best thing to demonstrate their solidarity 
and goodwill was to send me unemployed staff officers. 
In three consecutive days I found the GSO II, the 
DAQMG and the DAAG on my door step begging me 
to give them something to do. The DAQMG was killed 
at Tsangdhar when the Chinese attacked on 20th 
October: the GSO II was evacuated sick with lung 
trouble, within a day of his arrival : and the DAAG was 
returned with thanks as I did not have any problems 
connected with ceremonials, pay, pension, welfare or 
discipline. 

The influx of tourist staff officers was so comic that 
to this day I cannot believe that this was the manner in 
which the Divisional Staff of 4 Division, was sought to be 
employed. This finally confirms the utter chaos and dis- 
organisation that prevailed in October 1962. We cannot 
take refuge in political interference for this atrocious 
state of affairs. We are all to blame for creating the 
atmosphere more appropriate to a Ruritanian Army. 


Chapter XVIII 


The Occupation and Build-Up of Tsangle 

Before venturing into the last act in the tragedy of 
Thagla Ridge, I must recount the unfortunate fixation 
on holding Tsangle. Thwarted in their endeavour to 
throw out the Chinese; oblivious of the Chinese build- 
up for an invasion; prodded by uninformed public 
opinion; and not knowing whether to retreat or 
negotiate; the higher planners at Delhi took refuge in 
Tsangle. The handling of the Tsangle affair typified 
the breakdown of the entire Indian nerve-structure for 
the higher direction of war and went to show how 
difficult it was to reconcile psychological and political 
inhibitions with hard military facts. 

The task of guarding all the crossings over the 
Namka Chu was an impossible one, as we have seen, 
and 7 Brigade was cannon-fodder for the Chinese when- 
ever they chose to attack. In spite of this, I was not 
permitted to concentrate my energies and resources 
towards this end. I was ordered to fritter away resources 
on continually building up this miserable god-forsaken 
herder’s hut called Tsangle. It will be recalled that 
Tsangle was first occupied on 4th October, after a recon- 
naissance patrol had visited the place and reported that 
the place was unoccupied. 

We now know that this information was a god-send 
to a harrassed Indian Government, clinging to straws, 
and seeking ^ a loop-hole to extricate itself from the 
dilemma of its own making. Here was a chance to 
show some ‘'gains’* on the Thagla Ridge. I was ordered 
to hold Tsangle, despite the certainty of compromising 
our tactical plan. Later, I was ordered to build it up 
to. prove to the Bhutanese that not only did we have 
adequate forces to handle the Ghinese, but had surplus 



326 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


men to deploy on their borders. There are no limits 
to self-delusion. 

From the outset Tsangle was an embarrassment 
because of the difficulty of maintenance. There was 
no direct route from Bridge IV due to impassable 
bluffs. This forced us to adopt the circuitous route via 
Tsangdhar. By mid-October the turn round time had 
increased to five days, over icy paths and slippery 
gradients. It was impossible to carry a worthwhile 
payload on this route, as the carriers themselves had to 
be self-contained for ten days. Men with power, but 
no knowledge, ignore these uncomfortable facts of life. 

Most “porters” began dumping their loads en 
route , and the more stout hearted were delivering quan- 
tities that were not worth the effort of sending them 
there. They could have been better utilised to build- 
up the Namka Chu defenders. 

Snow clothing at 100 per cent scales had to be 
provided to all porters commuting between Tsangdhar 
and Tsangle due to the extreme cold and the altitude 
of Tsangle i.e. 15,500 feet. Both the troops and the 
porters had to be protected against the bitter weather 
or else they would have perished. The only solution, 
lay in undressing the defenders of the Namka Chu and 
providing the minimal requirements for the defenders 
of Tsangle. This was a most unhappy solution and 
was deeply resented by the simple Indian jawan. It 
brought shame to the Officer Cadre, who are not 
expected to do a strip-tease with one lot of soldiers to 
ensure the survival of another. 

1 implored Gen. Prasad to permit me to abandon 
Tsangle and protested against the wasteful diversion 
of resources. My pleas were turned down on the grounds 
that Gen. Kaul’s orders were that wc could only 
abandon Tsangle only if directly threatened by the 
Chinese. Instead, I was ordered to send more rein- 
forcements of men, mortars and machine-guns. On 17th 
October I was ordered to send a company of Gorkkas to 





THE OCCUPATION AND BUILD-UP OF TSANGLE 327 


strengthen the existing company of Punjabis. On 19th 
October I was ordered to send the remainder of the Gorkhas. 
Had this move taken place we would have the ridiculous 
situation of having five companies in one tiny locality, 
and ten companies spread over ten miles. 

These orders were issued at a time when the 
Chinese were building up furiously opposite our positions 
along the Namka Chu, and their intentions could be 
ignored only by the optimistic or the foolish. The 
mulish determination to hold Tsangle is the final, 
irrefutable proof that the Civil Authority and the 
Army High Command did not expect, much less prepare 
for, a Chinese invasion, despite the open evidence. 

In our trial we did not understand the significance 
of the fixation on Tsangle, at the expense of the task 
of holding "our present position”. We were never given 
a satisfactory explanation. I pointed out that Tsangle 
had no tactical significance. I pleaded that I was hard 
put to give the troops a concrete task. I was invariably 
squashed by the Delphic pronouncement that “This 
move had been ordered at the highest level”. QED! 
Once when I protested more vigorously than normal 
I was warned that my CO’s and I would be court- 
martialled if we raised any more objections or arguments 
against Tsangle. After all, these moves had been 
ordered at the highest level. 

Tsangle is a matter of vital import for an under- 
standing of the constitutional theory of “Civil Supre- 
macy” - a most widely misunderstood term. Gen. 
Umrao Singh had protested, initially on tactical 
grounds, that the holding ofTsangle would compromise 
our plans. He was overruled. Later, on 17th October, 
Gen. Kaul claims that he tried his best to convince the 
High Command to abandon this wretched place, but 
he failed. Kaul claims that he was unable to influence 
his military and political superiors to rescind this order. 
He argued, in vain, in the presence of his bosses, Gens. 
Thapar and Sen. Unfortunately he does not tell us 



328 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


why he did not ask for a revised task in the Namka Chu, 
in view of the diversion of resources to Tsangle to meet 
a fresh political requirement. Why did he not ask for 
the abandonment of the Namka Chu? Why did he 
not ask for the re-deployment of 7 Brigade, on higher 
ground? How else could he compensate for the reduc- 
tion in the strength of the Namka Chu garrison? 
Whatever he did at the “political meetings”, the fact re- 
mains that Kaul threatened and bullied his subordinates 
to carry out all the paper tasks. He never once visited 
us to explain these unreasonable and unsound orders. 
Indeed I never saw Kaul again after the 10th of October. 

At that time I did now know who this mysterious 
“highest level” was. Now we are told that it was 
Mr. Krishna Menon himself. On 17th October, 
Mr. Menon is reported, by Kaul, as saying “it was 
politically important for us to hold on to Tsangle as 
it was situated near the Tri-Junction, a point where 
India, Bhutan and Tibet met”. Menon was pre- 
sumably exercising his own version of Civil Supremacy, 
of which he has never ceased to boast. As late as 
November 1967, he said, in ringing tones that, “Who else 
but the Government can take decisions of this nature”. 
He apparently believes that the Tezpur meeting of 17th 
October, is an exercise in Civil Supremacy, in the face 
of the stark military and topographical facts; and the 
advice of his military commanders. The result was 
that considerations of national prestige added signi- 
ficantly to the probability of defeat. The reinforcement 
of Tsangle was achieved by depleting the Namka Chu 
garrison, as fresh troops could neither be inducted nor 
maintained. We could only reshuffle the same old 
pack of cards. The scope and nature of the Chinese 
build-up, on 17th October was well known, through the 
situation reports that were being sent daily; and yet 
Mr. Menon was laying down his own national priorities. 

If Tsangle was the last symbol of misconceived 
Civil Supremacy, it also represented the low-water 



THE OCCUPATION AND BUILD-UP OF TSANGLE 329 


mark of the exercise of fruitful army leadership. The 
military Brass should have known the importance of the 
Selection and Maintenance of the Aim — the cardinal 
principle of war. The field commander reponsible for 
operations cannot be given a task and then have his 
resources diverted to a second task, without amending 
the first. Political pressure and futile verbal protests 
are poor alibis for passing orders which clearly violate 
principles, and interfere with primary tasks. To the 
officers in the Namka Chu, it appeared there was a 
diabolical collusion and unholy alliance, between the 
politician and the generalship of the day. 

* * * 

Before I narrate the events which rose to a crescendo 
on 20th October 1962, I would quote The Times of 
London. After the Tseng-Jong skirmish of 10th 
October, this paper commented: “There is no apparent 
realisation here (New Delhi) of the magnitude of the 
military contest which 'India may now have begun. 
Observers in a position to know better are still speaking 
lightly of a swift action to eject the 300/400 Chinese. 
Official accounts of continued strengthening of the 
original Chinese Force have been ignored”. It is 
incredible that an itinerant journalist should have 
reached a more incisive judgement of events than those 
with the resources of the entire Governmental machine. 

On 15th October 1962, Mr. Nehru said in Colombo 
that: “The attitude of the Chinese Government is to 
seize territory and then have talks. India is not 
prepared for that. China cannot be permitted to 
occupy Indian Territory and hold it for further bar- 
gaining”. After the briefing he received, on 11th 
October, on the NEFA situation, was Mr. Nehru in a 
position to make such a statement? And what could 
he do about it? Prime Ministers are not expected to 
soliloquise in front of journalists. Mr. Nehru’s views 
should have been confined to a Cabinet Sub-Committee, 
where realistic counter-measures can be formulated. 



Chapter XIX 


The Blinkered Command 


On 16th October Gen. Prasad spoke to me on the 
phone from Tsangdhar. I was waiting for a sorely 
needed message of hope and encouragement. Instead, 
he told me that Gen. Kaul had not been able to convince 
the “higher authorities” of the impossibility of evicting 
the Chinese. The Defence Minister had now given the 
1st of November as the last date acceptable to the 
Cabinet. The Defence Minister wanted to know what 
my requirements were for this task. At first I was too 
paralysed to give an answer. When I regained my 
composure I realised that someone had completely lost 
his sanity. This was the third failure of a general 
emissary, to convince his bosses to act in a sane and 
mature manner. I was practically without clothes, 
without rations and without artillery, and I was being 
asked “what I needed” to evict the Chinese. The 
back-log of even basic requirements was not being made 
up. After a bitter exchange of words, wherein I 
accented the prevalent lunacy, I asked Gen. Prasad 
to send me the Armoured Division and 200 medium 
artillery pieces ! I gave vent to justified disillusionment 
as I began to realise that my troops were likely 
to be sacrificed through the stubbornness of others. 
Prasad “agreed” with me that the Defence Minister’s 
offer had no military meaning as the movement of 
troops and equipment were restricted by the Himalayan 
terrain. There was nothing that anybody in the world 
could do to alter the military' balance in our favour, 
in the prevailing circumstances. 

Gen. Prasad promised to present our “joint” 
views to the Corps Commander. I had another wait 



THE BLINKERED COMMAND 


331 


while our views were being “represented”. This was 
the fourth time that the military advice of forward 
Commanders was being represented. I was sick of 
tliis word. This time the military factors were self- 
evident and I could see no justification for wasting time 
on consulting me, or the need for any further advice 
or opinion. The suspense caused by these frequent 
representations and its effect on the officers and men 
facing certain destruction can easily be imagined. 
While we waited in the exposed valley, wet, frozen 
and on edge with uncertainty, we had to endure the 
towering Thagla Massif, the Chinese preparations 
for the coup-de-grace and abandon hopes of being rescued 
by our senior commanders. Visits by Senior Com- 
manders who ask fatuous questions result in the break- 
down of military protocol and breeds despair. 

This vexed question of “representations” was a 
symptom which portrayed the demolisation of those 
who should have displayed the moral courage expected 
of general officers. I accept my full share of blame for 
this fantastic procedure that passed for operational 
command. I should have resigned after this futile 
conversation. 

Gen. Prasad had come to see me at Towang on 
10th September and promised to represent my views 
to the Corps Commander, Gen. Umrao Singh. On 
25th September, Gen. Prasad “agreed” that there was 
no hope of evicting the Chinese. On 29th September 
Gen. Umrao promised to go to Lucknow and represent 
our views to the Army Commander. On 10th October, 
a chastened Gen. Kaul left for Delhi to explain the 
desperate position at the Namka Chu to the Prime 
Minister. Now Gen. Prasad was going to have another 
crack at Gen. Kaul, and through him the Defence 
Minister. It is pertinent to ask who was actually 
supposed to take military decisions and respond to 
these frequent representations ? Who was turning down 
whose advice? Where was the Army Command set 



332 


HIMALAYAN' BLUNDER 


up? Had they all become office-runners? Obviously 
the years of misplaced Chilian domination were now 
being paid for in the remote Namka Chu Valley. The 
Army Brass had lost its authority and capacity to resist 
impracticable political orders. Civil Supremacy reigned 
supreme. 

It was frustrating to have my views accepted and 
yet never found anyone who could actually decide one 
way or another. 

There was clearly no hope of exacting the Chinese 
as things stood in the Namka Chu and yet this senseless 
pursuit of a mirage persisted. 

I have often been asked why I did not resign. 
There were many reasons apart from the ethics of such 
an act. The primary one was that throughout the 
operation I never met a single senior officer who dis- 
agreed with me purely on the professional plane. 
I had, therefore, no grounds for resigning. . Inept 
political leadership is not a valid reason for brigadiers 
to relinquish command or resign their commissions. 
One expects seniors to issue sound orders and_ not 
merely pass on orders in which they have no faith. 

* * * 

On 17th October I asked Gen. Prasad to withdraw 
my Brigade from the Namka Chu as quickly as possible 
as, whatever the political imperatives for my deploy- 
ment, I could not maintain my troops. Again he 
promised to ‘speak’ to HQ. IV Corps. Instead of 
acceding to my request I was asked by his staff to for- 
ward certain information ‘at once’. I was ordered to 
find out and report data with regard to the lake 
near Tsangle. Army HQ. wanted to know the thick- 
ness of ice in this lake during winter, as it had apparently 
been ‘decided’ at the highest level that one infantry 
company would be kept at Tsangle throughout die 
■winter and that it would be maintained there by landing 
helicopters with floats. I replied that prior to September 


THE BLINKERED COMMAND 


333 


no one had heard of this accursed place, much less spent 
a winter collecting this sort of useless data. I was 
promptly told to liaise with the civil authorities and 
obtain the information. I banged the receiver down 
after pointing out that no Civil Authority had set up 
his headquarters near me at the Namka Chu; the 
nearest Base Superintendent lived a few yards away from 
Divisional HQ, and it would perhaps be quicker if the 
Divisional Staff would get off their backsides and walk 
across the road for their information. It is unbelievable 
that this sort of wishful thinking and pursuit of delusions 
was going on while the Chinese were massing for an 
invasion. All our reports of the Chinese build up were 
obviously not being read, much less imbibed, by any 
responsible person. 

On 18th October the Chinese were engaged in 
last minute preparations for a night advance and a 
dawn attack. We could see their marking parties and 
guides moving to forming-up places. I sent frantic 
messages to 4 Division but got no reaction. Everyone 
seemed to be deaf, dumb and blinkered. 

On the night of the 18th, CO 4 Grenadiers reported 
that a Chinese party had infiltrated between his positions 
and the Punjabis, near Bridge I. We both thought that 
this was probably a marking party and that we should 
try and intercept it. I did not stop to think of how we 
would converse with a Chinaman, if we caught one, as 
the nearest interpreter was probably in Delhi! I spoke 
to Col. Misva and co-ordinated the attempt to bar the 
escape route. Unfortunately due to thick jungle, 
poor visibility and lack of daylight reconnaissance, the 
Chinese infiltrators got away. I had a small bet with 
Misra that we would get a ‘rocket’ before the morning. 
Sure enough, at 6.30 a.m. I was rung up and asked to 
explain why I was still allowing ‘intruders’ to enter 
Indian territory! By that time I was beyond being 
surprised at anything. Tire imminence of the Chinese 
assault and the scope of their preparations were jus* 



334 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


not being comprehended at the top. The outward 
composure of the High Command was clearly due to a 
failue of imagination. There was an air of unreality 
and doom during the last critical days and moments of 
the Chinese build up. 

* * * 

On the evening of the 18th, Lt.-Col. K. K. Tewari, 
Commander Signals of 4 Division arrived at my HQ,. 
He had been sent to check the Brigade signals communi- 
cations especially the newly laid line. He was able 
to brief me on what was going on at the Divisional 
level. I was grateful as I had received no Operation 
Order or Intelligence Summary to date. He told me 
that 7 Brigade was going to be withdrawn very soon 
and only one battalion was being left in the Namka Chu ; 
the rest of 7 Brigade would be located at Lumpu. 
One company was to stay at Tsangle for political 
reasons. He also told me that a Defence Operation 
Order was being issued by Division very soon. Needless 
to add that this order never fetched up. 

Col. Tewari was a gentle, God-fearing man in 
addition to being a first rate signaller. He had worked 
against tremendous odds throughout the operations and 
had overcome difficulties which would have taxed an 
Army Signals Regiment. He is due much credit for 
providing communications with obsolete equipment 
and the distances involved. Instead of praise they came 
in for criticism for not being able to work miracles 
with out- dated sets and distances which were beyond 
the range of divisional signals. 

I was once asked to sack my Brigade Signals Officer 
but I refused and said that I would prefer to be sacked 
myself. I was responsible for giving liim tasks which 
were beyond his capability. Tewari was grateful for 
my intervention on behalf of an innocent young officer. 

I hope that young Lachhman Singh reads this small 
tribute from a grateful Commander, for his untiring 
efforts to keep me in touch. 



THE BLINKERED COMMAND 


335 


There was a sad sequel to Tewari’s visit. He 
asked my permission to'visit 1 /9 Gorkhas and I readily 
agreed. When the Gorkhas were attacked, Tewari 
found himself in the midst of an infantry battle. He 
was taken, prisoner after the Chinese had overrun the 
position. Who has ever heard of a Commander Signals 
being sent to an infantry battalion on the night before 
a massive attack, if there was any anticipation of a 
battle? He would have been at Divisional HQ 
attending to the Division’s communications. 



Chapter XX 


The Vain Fight For Decisions 

And so \ve come to the finale in the strange drama of 
September-October 1962. 19th October represented 
the low-water mark of the post-Independence Indian 
Army; as 20th October was to be the day of national 
regeneration. Nothing short of the Thagla disaster 
could have exorcised the wrong notions which had 
crept into our ways and thinking. The years of 
credulity,, neglect, misunderstood Civil Supremacy and 
the creation of a compliant High Command were to 
be paid for in blood and humiliation. 

On the evening of 19th October, 7 Brigade was 
squarely in the Chinese trap and it was a matter of 
hours before it was sprung. Throughout the day 
Chinese units could be seen moving to battle locations, 
which they had reconnoitered during the preceding 
three days.. All this, hectic activity was passed to 
4 Division in special situation reports, but there was 
deplorable apathy in deciphering Chinese intentions. 
There was neither apprehension nor the issue of military 
orders to counter the Chinese moves. The only response 
was an order from the GSO I to prepare a detailed 
sketch map showing Chinese concentrations. Apparently 
this was required by Army HQ^ “at once”. I told him to 
make his own sketch on the basis of the information and 
grid references which I had been passing on regularly. 

On the evening of 19th October, Gen. Prasad rang 
me up and ordered me to send the remainder of 1/9 
Gorkhas to Tsangle, at dawn the next day. I protested 
against this senseless order. I asked him whether he 
had read the reports of the Chinese activities and con- 
centraUons of the last two days. One Chinese battalion 
had already moved to Dura Dum La, opposite Tsangle. 



THE VAIN FIGHT FOR DECISIONS 


337 


In addition, some 2,000 Cliincsc soldiers were seen 
moving from Thagla towards Tsanglc. It was plain 
that these moves were for a major attack, and not for 
defensive purposes. The Chinese had probed the 
defences of Tsanglc, on the 18th, and suffered casualties. 

I told liim that the Tsanglc Garrison would de- 
finitely be wiped out as it was on the north bank of 
the Namka Chu and the Cliincsc were certain to remove 
this sore spot. I challenged liim to justify the sacrifice 
of more troops on a mission that had no military value. 
I pointed out that the Gorkhas would be under constant 
Chinese observation throughout the march and faced 
the possibility of being wiped out by Cliincsc fire even 
before reaching Tsanglc. I asked liim whether we had 
learnt any lessons from the Tseng Jong action of 10th 
October where we had ventured into Cliincsc-occupicd 
territory, without any military preparations or support, 
and suffered grievously. Even if the Chinese did not 
attack the Gorkhas, I could not maintain them, the 
Punjabi Company and all the supporting arms. I was 
already bcliind in stocking the existing force there. The 
General’s answer was the now' classic - “move on hard 
scales and pouch ammunition”. 

I then took up the question of controlling or in- 
fluencing any battle in which the Gorkhas might get 
involved. On 10th October, after the Cliincse attacked 
our patrol, the resultant melee was classified as “a 
battalion or brigade show”, although I had had no 
hand in precipitating the engagement. Who would 
handle the battle if the Gorkhas gpt into a figjit while 
on the move? Would tliis responsibility be again 
handed over to me? I could not assist or reinforce 
Tsangle and any battle there would be an independent 
action. I made it clear that I was no longer prepared 
to be the guinea-pig for other people’s futile fumbles 
at playing soldiers. The last time I had watched help- 
lessly as the Punjabis were being slaughtered. Tnc 
Chinese superiority was now infinitely greater and their 
intentions grimly unmistakable. 



338 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


I demanded a written order to send the Gorkhas 
as I intended to take up this issue and required docu- 
mentary evidence to pin-point the culprit. I was 
tired of verbal orders which were never confirmed in 
writing. My Brigade had become the sacrificial Iamb 
to expiate everyone’s sins. I reminded him that to 
date I had not received a single order in complete form. 
Everything was being done by slogans, words and 
signals. Prasad promised to issue formal orders which 
he did later in the evening. 

Our heated discussion then turned to the task of 
7 Brigade in the Namka Chu, where our orders had 
remained unchanged from 10th October, despite the 
massive, visible and offensive Chinese preparations and 
the diversion of resources to Tsangle. I told him that 
in view of the Chinese concentrations and their battle 
deployment, we must stop talking of policing our 
borders, or guarding every inch of our territory -as 
very soon we were likely to lose all our territory in this 
sector. There was no sense in “ensuring the security” 
of useless logs of wood, at all costs. The Namka Chu 
was no longer an obstacle and could be crossed at will 
at any point. 

I reminded Gen. Prasad that I was already deployed 
non-tactically with yawning gaps between localities, in 
a negative, prolonged and ineffective mission in gross 
contravention of all military tenets. He knew that the 
Rajputs were holding a frontage of over 4,000 yards. 
The distance between Temporary Bridge and Log 
Bridge was 1,200 yards. That between Log Birdge 
and Bridge IV was 1,500 yards and between Bridge IV 
and Bridge III 1,500 yards. The LEFT (Western) 
flank was completely open as the distance between 
Temporary Bridge and Bridge V (Tsangle) was over 
six miles and it took some 18 hours to cover. Visibility 
from localities, at ground and bunker level was only 
30-100 yards. There was no support between com- 
panies and in most cases not even between platoons. 



THE VAIN FIGHT FOR DECISIONS 339 

Instead of sending more troops to Tsangle and 
weakening whatever defences we had along the Namka 
Chu, it was imperative that we pull back to Lumpu. 
As a first step I wanted immediate permission to with- 
draw the two Rajput Companies located in the area of 
Log and Temporary Bridges, and re-deploy them to 
give depth to the Rajput layout. I warned Gen. Prasad 
that unless I was permitted to occupy a more compact 
area, at once, the Chinese would drive a wedge between 
our positions and strike at our sole maintenance base 
at Tsangdhar, which was completely defenceless. The 
company that I had sent to guard the gun positions had 
been ordered to Tsangle on the 17th. The company 
I had there now would be leaving the next day, if the 
orders to send all the Gorkhas was not rescinded. 
Who, in the name of heaven, was to guard the guns 
and dropping zone at Tsangdhar? 

Prasad first gave me the grave news, that Gen. 
Kaul was seriously ill and had been evacuated to 
Delhi. He doubted whether anyone at Corps HQ, 
would give a decision which amounted to revoking the 
Corps Commander’s personal orders. I now under- 
stood the inaction of 17th, 18th and 19th October, and 
why the Gorkhas were still being forced to Tsangle, in 
spite of the perilous position at Thagla. 

I gave Prasad my appreciation of how I thought 
the Chinese attack would develop: 

(a) On 20th October the Chinese would definitely 
wipe out Tsangle. 

(b) Within the next two days, the Chinese would 
drive a wedge between and through 2 Rajput 
positions and capture Tsangdhar. When this 
happened the whole Brigade would be in 
the bag. 

(c) Due to our dispersal and lack of troops, the 
Chinese would have a walk-over, as they -would 
have to contend with only two or three infantry 
companies, without any artillery support. 



340 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


I then said words to the effect that: “I can no 
longer stand by and watch the massacre of my men. 
It is time that some senior officer took a firm stand. 
This is no longer a case of trying to bluff the Chinese 
by sitting under their noses. If a scapegoat is wanted, 
I am willing to offer myself and am prepared to accept 
the consequences, and resign my commission”. I added 
that: “I have been palmed off all these days by 
senior officers, with false promises of fighting for my 
Brigade, and ultimately claiming helplessness in the 
face of political pressure. I am sick of the words ‘the 
highest level’, and other mysterious persons, who were 
giving orders without knowing what was happening 
here”. 

To my horror Gen. Prasad refused to assume 
responsibility and expressed his inability to allow any 
operational freedom whatever having received categoric 
orders to hold fast to our present positions. 

Prasad promised to convey all that I had told him 
to HQ, IV Corps and do his best to convince them to 
accede to my request. In the meanwhile he asked me 
not to do anything hasty till he rang me gain. According 
to a witness at Divisional HQ, who overheard this 
conversation, Prasad said: “I have no orders to permit 
you to withdraw to a place of your choice. Stay where 
you are. The matter had been referred to Corps but 
there is no reply from them yet”. All my General could 
say to console me was that he entirely “agreed” with 
me. 

Gen. Prasad rang me up after a while and told me 
that the Brigadier General Staff of IV Corps did not 
feel^ competent to agree to any retraction. The BGS 
{Brig. K. K. Singh) was however trying to contact 
GemKattl in Delhi, to obtain orders. Needless to add 
nothing further was heard from Corps or Division. 
BGS is also alleged to have said that we should not 
worry as the Chinese were not likely to do anything 
big. 



THE VAIN FIGHT FOR DECISIONS 


341 


When I heard this, I asked Gen. Prasad to send 
me a helicopter the next day, to evacuate me, as I was 
not prepared to command 7 Brigade, under these 
circumstances. I then used some unparliamentary 
language, and accused him of deliberately hiding 
Kaul’s illness from me. Had I known of this earlier 
I would have smelt something fishy about the inaction 
in the face of the Chinese attack plans. I then told 
him that I had lost faith in his (Prasad’s) leadership, 
and the leadership of all who had had a hand in the 
sordid Thagla business. I had hitherto relied on my 
superiors, mostly against my own judgement, and they 
had let down my troops. They invariably agreed with 
my military assessment and advice and gave promises 
which they had flagrantly dishonoured. Finally I 
questioned the physical courage of all those who were 
willing to come and watch a tamasha> but who were 
conspicuous by their absence since the Chinese attack. 
Not one single general officer had visited me after 10th 
October. They all seemed to have time for futile 
conferences at Delhi and Tezpur, but no time to visit 
the battlefield which had now been set up as a butchery 
by the Chinese. 

Gen. Prasad then broke down and told me that he 
would visit me the next morning. He said that he too 
had had enough and now wanted to share the fate of 
the Brigade. He said that he would stay and die with 
the Brigade, if necessary. 

I could see no point in this fatalistic and supine 
attitude. I told him that I welcomed his proposed 
visit, but that I reserved my right to fly back and see 
anyone in India, on this subject. I told him that I 
would meet him at the helipad at Tsangdhar on the 
morning of the 20 th. 

These extraordinary conversations took place in 
the presence of my entire staff and two gunner officers, 
Major Balraj Singh Nijjar and Captain Talwar, creating 



342 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


an atmosphere of dejection and despondency. I was 
exhausted after this talk and depressed beyond words. 
I drafted a formal signal to HQ, 4 Division to record 
my discussion with the GOC. The GOC’s impotence 
deepened the pall of gloom hanging over my HQ. 

I went back to my bunker and lay down for a few 
minutes. I wondered at the decline of the Indian Army 
which I had joined with such high hopes and with such 
pride. In 1941, the Indian Army was one of the finest 
fighting forces in the world. What had happened to 
us? I thought about the command set-up of the past 
few days. Even at this late stage. General Officers 
could not take obvious tactical decisions. What was 
even more incredible, is that they forbade others from 
taking them. It was not Gen. Prasad’s faults, it was 
the fault of the system whereby the Army command 
chain had surrendered its authority. Here again, the 
years of domination and denigration of the Officer 
Corps, was being paid for in this desolate valley. If the 
Civil Authority desire obedient hacks then this is all 
that they can expect in a national crisis, when forth- 
rightness and professional integrity, are called for. 
Government lived to rue the day for eliminating its best 
military talent and for meddling with Army promotions 
and appointments. 

This is perhaps the most appropriate place to 
evaluate Maj.-Gen. Niranjan Prasad’s role ana contri- 
bution to the defeat at Thagla Ridge. Gen. Prasad 
suffered grievously throughout the period 8th September 
to 20th October. He knew what my men had been 
made to suffer and endure. He had first-hand knowledge 
of the impossibility of evicting the Chinese. He too 
was made to hang about while senior generals ran around 
in circles trying to obtain sensible orders. 

I sympathise with him in the unfortunate and 
indeterminate role that he was called upon to play 
in the drama of those days. He was a General Officer, 
and yet his advice was neither sought nor heeded. He 



THE VAIN FIGHT FOR DECISIONS 


343 


was too junior to influence the National Policy and yet 
too senior to stand by idly while one of his brigades 
was being led to the slaughter. Prasad was a very 
sensitive man and was deeply distressed at the plight 
of my men. 

Gen. Prasad never really commanded a division. 
He was turned into a post-office. It was a grave 
injustice when attempts were made to pin the blame 
for the Dhola fiasco onto him. All he did was to shuttle 
between commanders, passing the views of his sub- 
ordinates or conveying the orders of his superiors. In 
all honesty I cannot find it in my heart to attach any 
blame or guilt to his professional conduct throughout 
the operation. It is axiomatic that to attach blame, 
a person must have some freedom of action. Gen. 
Prasad never had the freedom to take a single decision. 

My only regret is that he did not resign-certainly 
after 13th October, when the order to continue sitting 
in the Namka Chu, was received by him. He did 
not have to face any charge of personal cowardice as 
he was not in direct command, in the field. He had 
no command other than my brigade. He might 
have also acted on his own initiative on the evening 
of 19th October and accepted the consequences. He 
was the de facto and de jure Corps Commander, in 
the absence of Kaul. 



Chapter XXI 


7 Brigade Without Higher Leadership 

There has been a great deal of controversy about 
Gen. Raul's untimely illness on 17th/18th October: 
and considerable heart-burning about his recall on 
29th October. Unfortunately the consequences of his 
illness have been clouded by the vigorously partisan 
approach of most commentators. There have been many 
unfair and improper insinuations and inuendos made. 
Kaul had become the bete-noir of some journals, and 
they grasped the opportunity provided by his illness to 
impute motives, and even imply cowardice. In the 
resultant mud-slinging the significance of his absence 
has been missed. 

Gen. Raul’s illness and his evacuation from 
rezpur to Delhi were calamitous to the fortunes of 
7 Brigade to the extent that it was left without higher 
leadership during the three critical days of 18th, 19th 
an< ^ 20th October. There was no Corps Commander, 
no duly authorised deputy commander and no guide- 
lines for the staff of IV Corps (indeed HQ IV Corps 
was still in the. embryonic stage) to deal with the fluid 
military situation which continued to be heavily in- 
fected with politics. There was no higher battle-field 
command to redeem the clumsiness of our so-called 
P* ans * The already grotesque chain of com- 
mand broke down completely with His sudden departure. 

First let me say that commanders are human and 
do go sick like other mortals. When he left Tezpur 
B.aul was a sick man. He was disillusioned, dejected, 
disappointed and his belief in Chinese restraint rudely 
belied by events. Some have gone on record to suggest 
that his nerves had been affected. 



7 BRIGADE WITHOUT HIGHER LEADERSHIP 345 

Gen. Kaul’s illness gave his detractors an oppor- 
tunity to vilify him largely because of the timing of his 
evacuation and the manner in which his recall was 
allegedly engineered by his mentors in high places, 
Kaul left for Delhi soon after the crucial meeting of 
17th October when Mr. Menon had invoked political 
necessity to force the Army to hold Tsangle and Kaul 
had failed to have this decision reversed. On 17th 
October only the blind could fail to gauge the Chinese 
temper and capability. The defenders of the Namka 
Chu were doomed if the emphasis shifted to Tsangle. 

Had Kaul stayed away from NEFA the matter 
might have been allowed to pass into history as an 
unfortunate hazard of soldiering in the Himalayas. 
But his return to the command of IV Corps on 29th 
October raised many an eyebrow. Lt.-Gen. Harbaksh 
Singh (who later commanded Western Command 
against the Pakistanis in 1965) had assumed Command 
on 24th October, after Towang had been abandoned. 
He was widely credited with having restored the morale 
of a bewildered Indian Army and its confidence in 
the higher leadership. At that time the Chinese ad- 
vance guards were knocking at the outer defences of 
Sela Pass and had paused to digest the first morsel of 
NEFA. Kaul’s return during the pause gave birth to 
unhealthy rumours and speculations. 

The first rumour was that Mr. Nehru had inter- 
vened on behalf of Kaul. The Army knew that complete 
recovery from a serious lung ailment, within 11 days, 
was a remarkable, if not a miraculous feat. The ready 
clearance given him by the Medical Corps to return to 
duty to the Himalayan Heights without the mandatory 
period of convalescence and sick leave was viewed with 
scepticism. Now the ugly rumours really gained 
momentum and gathered corroborative detail as cir- 
culation widened. 

It was said that Kaul was not all that sick in the 
first place to warrant evacuation in the midst of battle. 



346 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Others said that Mr. Nehru was convinced that the 
Chinese had annexed all they wanted in NEFA and the 
lull in fighting was permanent. This view was rein- 
forced by Government’s optimistic pronouncements 
about the impregnability of Sela Pass. It was said that 
Kaul was being given the chance to restore his tarnished 
military image by being given the opportunity to claim 
the “stabilisation of the NEFA front”. If the Chinese 
did not intend to advance, then the health of the 
Theatre Commander was not a critical consideration, 
but the rehabilitation of a favourite general was. 

Mr. D. R. Mankekar has aptly summed up the 
repercussions of Kaul’s recall in his book The Guilty 
Men of 1962 in these words: “It was indeed a worse 
crime on the part of Government and Army HQ, to 
have let a physically ailing Kaul to rush back to resume 
active command of the Corps in a grave crisis solely 
in order to enable him to rehabilitate his ‘face’ at the 
cost of the Country’s security interests. When things 
were going wrong all round, we had at the helm, at 
the Corps Headquarters, an embittered man, mentally 
disturbed and physically unfit - still unrecovered from 
a grave ailment. . . . The Army Commander, Gen. Sen 
is believed to have objected to Kaul’s recall but was 
overruled by the Army Chief, Gen. Thapar, because 
higher authorities’ wanted him to be rehabilitated”. 

It is no secret that Kaul’s authority never anchored 
on solid professional attainments, had been under- 
mined by the defeats at Thagla Ridge and the fall of 
Towang and he was prey to all sorts of slander. Loss 
of confidence in a commander is a subtle, insidious and 
all-pervasive feeling. Mr. Mankekar says: “Further, 
they altogether lacked confidence in the higher military 
leadership. This is typified by the story told to me by 
Maj.-Gen. A. S. Pathania himself and confirmed by 
others. Pathania said that on the evening of 29th 
October, when the officers were clustered round the 
radio set and heard the announcement that Kaul was 



7 BRIGADE WITHOUT HIGHER LEADERSHIP 347 


now fit and had resumed charge of IV Corps, they 
spontaneously exclaimed ‘He has come back? Now 
God save us’.” 

There is only one remedy for this sort of demoralisa- 
tion and that is to remove the Commander however 
unjust such action may appear to be. There are many 
instances in military history where this has had to be 
done. Indian readers need look no further than the case 
of their last Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Sir 
Claude Auchinlcck described by the Germans in these 
words : “If the Auk was not the man he was-and by that 
I mean the best Allied General in North Africa during 
the war -Rommel would have finished off the 8th 
Army”. He commanded the British Empire Forces in 
Egypt in 1941/42 at a time when Field Marshal Rommel, 
his adversary, had the edge. The Auk displayed 
generalship of the highest order in warding off Rommel’s 
threat and saving tire Middle East. He is also credited 
with drawing up the offensive plan (with the help of 
Gen. Dorman Smith, his Deputy Chief of Staff) which 
was later developed by his successor. By August 1942 
the tide had turned in favour of the Empire Forces 
who had been built up numerically and qualitatively. 
They were poised to destroy the Axis Forces in North 
Africa. 

By all norms of justice and equity the Auk should 
have been allowed to continue in command but the 
British Government of Mr. Churchill summarily re- 
placed him and appointed Gen. Bernard Montgomery 
to be the new commander of tire 8th Army and Gen. 
Alexander to be the Theatre Commander. Many in 
the Army were deeply grieved at the dismissal of a 
great general. A typical tribute paid to him was 
by Sir Ian Jacob, who had been sent to deliver 
Churchill’s letter of dismissal. He said, “I felt as if 
I were going to murder an unsuspecting friend”. 

The British Government’s decision was motivated by 
two considerations. The first was to provide fresh mill- 



348 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


tar)' leadership as the Auk had come to be associated 
with withdrawals and defeats. In a letter from Cairo to 
Mr. Attlee, the Deputy Prime Minister of the war-time 
Coalition Government, dated the 6th of August 1942, 
Mr. Churchill wrote: . I have no doubt the changes 

will impart a new vigorous impulse to the Army and re- 
store confidence in the Command, which I regret does 
not exist at the present time...”. On 21st August 
Mr. Churchill amplified the charge: “I am sure we are 
heading for disaster under the former regime. The 
Army has been reduced to bits and pieces, and oppressed 
by a sense of bafflement and uncertainty”. 

Moreover the British Public had tired of the ding- 
dong desert battles and demanded evidence of Govern- 
ment’s determination to achieve final victory in a 
theatre where fortunes had fluctuated for two years 
and no British victory was in sight despite the glib 
assurances of official spokesmen. The war-time Coalition 
Government had lately lost the Maldon Bye-election and, 
in July 1942, had faced and survived a censure motion. 
Thus the Auk had to be sacrificed on two counts. 
The injustice to the great Auk was of less consequence 
than the morale of the troops and the Public so far as 
the British Government was concerned. The Indian 
Government of October 1962 should have been as 
responsive to the national mood and the Army’s morale. 

Nirad C. Chaudhri, a noted author, and a keen 
student of military history, is the only commentator that 
I have come across who has defended Kaul’s evacuation 
on. health grounds. Reviewing Kaul’s memoirs in a 
series of three articles in the Times of India, he says : “But 
I must make it clear that there was no impropriety in his 
going on leave on urgent medical advice on the eve of 
it. On the 18th when he left for Delhi, he could not 
have anticipated the massive offensive. The situation 
was no worse than it had been for some time, and there 
was no question, as will be explained presently, for any 
offensive on the part of our forces. If it was -wrong for 



7 BRIGADE WITHOUT HIGHER LEADERSHIP 349 

Kaul to have left the front, it was even more wrong 
for Rommel to have gone to Germany for treatment 
on 23rd September 1942, just a month before the 
opening of the Battle of El Alamein, and three weeks 
after the defeat of his attack at the end of August. 
Like Rommel again Gen. Kaul returned to his post, 
even though if he wanted to avoid the stigma for an 
inevitable defeat he could have resigned his command. 
The charge of desertion of his post of duty can thus be 
called only a slander**. 

In completely exonerating Kaul, Mr. Chaudhri 
was undoubtedly handicapped by lack of information 
about the chain reaction set in motion by Kaul’s un- 
timely evacuation and abrupt recall. Whether Kaul 
was really sick or not is immaterial and I agree with 
him that it is wrong to refer to this as desertion, but the 
impact on the course of operations is a material issue. 

There was abundant information of the Chinese 
build-up for a massive invasion, and the situation, on 
18th October was desperate. It is a serious slur on 
the alertness of the forward troops to insinuate that 
they were sitting idly while the Chinese were openly 
massing in front of them: or that they failed to report 
Chinese moves to Gen. Kaul’s headquarters. The 
situation, on the 18th, was critical. 

Chaudhri could not have known of the break-down 
in. the Army’s command structure and therefore has 
missed the core of the problem. 

To the professional soldiers of the world the un- 
happy comparison with the distinguished German 
Field Marshal will appear a sacrilege. If an example 
from history was necessary, one would have wished that 
Chaudhri had selected a less far-fetched, or a less 
misleading one. 

Rommel had earned his desert sores after two years 
of campaigning whereas Kaul went sick after 13 days! 
Rommel flew back to command the dog-fight stage of 
the British attack at El Alamein. Kaul returned after 



350 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


the Battle of the Namka Chu and the evacuation of 
Towang, and during a lull. 

When Rommel went to Germany for medical 
treatment he left General Stumme in full command and 
clear orders about the method of defending the German 
lines. Stumme died of heart failure on the battle-field 
on 24th October 1942 and General Ritter von Thoma 
immediately took over. Rommel, though sick, flew over 
to take command of his Panzerarmee; arrived on the 
27th and within 24 hours of leaving his sick-bed he led 
his concentrated armour in a counter-attack. Thus 
the German Army had a commander throughout the 
Battle as well as carefully drawn up battle plans. There 
was no paralysis while reference was made to the ailing 
Field Marshal in Germany. This is the material point. 

Field Marshal Rommel has carved a permanent 
niche in the military hall of fame as probably the 
greatest armour tactician of all time. At Alamein he 
“managed to slog it out with a gigantically superior 
British Force for 12 days”. When forced to withdraw 
he fought a series of skillful rearguard actions which 
Corelli Barnett has described in his book The Desert 
Generals , as : “Its success must rank as a prodigious 
feat of arms and leadership. Rommel held his tiny 
Army together by force of character, by the loyalty 
of his veterans. In trances of exhaustion these men, 
the same men who had taken Tobruk and Gazala, 
unreinforced, unrelieved served their guns with 
instinctive skill, taking heart from the sight of tire 
stocky figure of the Field Marshal as he toured the 
battlefield fighting his thin line of battle in person like 
Wellington. . . . The Panzerarmee’s shield during that 
epic retreat was its commander’s reputation. . . • B 
was an amazing display of military virtuosity . . .*’♦ 
Gen. Kaul’s performance at Sela Pass and Bomdflla 
were hardly classics of military leadership. Kaul is 
reported to have completely broken down by 18th 
November, whereas the German Field Marshal went on 



7 BRIGADE WITHOUT HIGHER LEADERSHIP 351 


to command the anti-invasion forces, along the French 
coast-the famous German West Wall (or Atlantic Wall). 

Historical allusions apart, there are two vital 
lessons to be drawn from all this. The first is that 
commanders do fall ill, or even die, without notice. 
Wc must therefore adhere to the normal procedure of 
insisting on clear orders for the staff and subordinate 
commanders. The overall appreciation, aim and plan 
must be known to the key members in the chain of 
command and authority must be suitably delegated. 
Once a commander is evacuated from the battle zone 
he should be barred from maintaining any telephonic 
touch with his HQ,. A remote control commander is 
a menace to all, besides creating conditions where the 
art of passing the buck flourishes. 

In the political sphere, the lesson is that the 
selection, appointment and replacement of commanders 
must be made objectively. Mr. Menon and Gen. 
Thapar knew of Kaul’s illness and his evacuation to 
Delhi on 18th October. This being so, the following 
questions arise. Were they satisfied that there was no 
need to appoint the next senior, Gen. Prasad, to be 
officiating GOG IV Corps, with full authority to take 
the necessary decisions? How was it that Gen. Prasad’s 
initiative was completely curbed, and he felt impelled 
to consult a mere brigadier staff officer (Kaul’s BGS), 
before taking a tactical decision? And why did 
this staff officer himself feel compelled to refer the 
matter, in turn, to Gen. Kaul in Delhi? What were 
the orders to HQ, IV Corps that made it necessary for 
the senior staff officer to refer to an absent commander? 
And why was a “clearance” from Kaul necessary? 
Did the staff of IV Corps report the daily Chinese build- 
up to Kaul in Delhi? Was HQ, IV Corps set up and 
functioning? If HQ, IV Corps did not report to Kaul 
then to whom were they referring this most urgent 
matter? Haring read the daily situation reports, did 
all the high personages accept that IV Corps could 



352 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


continue to be left without a commander and without 
the latitude to respond to the fluid military situation? 
Did anyone, at any level, read and assimilate the 
import of the situation reports? If Kaul’s absence was 
accepted then would anyone in daily touch with the 
deteriorating situation in the Thagla area have talked 
about ascertaining the depth of ice in the lake near 
Tsangle ? Are we to believe that any practical person 
would still harp on the possibility of staying at Tsangle, 
and the Namka Ghu, throughout the winter? Who 
gave the order to send the Gorkhas to Tsangle on 19th 
October? Would such an order have been issued if 
the possibility of a Chinese attack on the Namka Chu 
defenders had been appreciated? The questions are 
infinite but unfortunately the answers are few. The 
vacuum created by Kaul’s absence has provided an 
escape hatch to many of those concerned with running 
the war with China on 18th, 19th and 20 th October. 
Hence all the apologias which have been served up to 
the Indian Public. Kaul could only commiserate with 
the plight of his troops, from his distant sick-bed. 
Gen. Sen claims that he had nothing to do with the 
war after Kaul’s appointment. Mr. Menon claims 
that he never interfered with detailed army dispositions. 
Gen. Prasad was helpless without Corps approval. Then 
who, in the name of the dead of Thagla, was in higher 
command, on the night of 19th October 1962? 

The failure to appoint a commander during Kaul’s 
illness was a blunder of incalculable dimensions on the 
part of the Defence Minister and the Army Chief. 
While the garrote was being tied in the Namka Chu, 
on 19 th October, Gen. Kaul was going through a 
complete medical check-up; the Government had_ no 
answer to the prospect of an all-out war with China; 
and Gen. Thapar fell between the stools of political 
vacillation and the Chinese arrayed might poised to 
annihilate an Indian brigade. 



7 BRIGADE WITHOUT HIGHER LEADERSHIP 353 

The crux of the matter is that the whole affair was 
handled in a typically subjective manner, by the political 
bosses. Kaul’s appointment, in a blaze of publicity 
had been received with mixed feelings by the Public, 
and with dismay by those in the Army who knew the 
military situation. His sudden replacement, on the eve 
of the certain Chinese attack, on grounds of ill-health, 
however valid, would have been widely misunderstood 
by Kaul’s many critics. Kaul himself acknowledges 
of the feeling against him in many quarters, and says 
that he preferred to risk his life than to relinquish 
command. This is a noble and admirable sentiment 
but the troops have a right to be led by generals who 
are 100 per cent fit and in whom they have professional 
confidence. The Prime Minister, the Defence Minister 
and the Army Chief were all party to the decision to 
appoint Kaul, and therefore had a personal stake in 
avoiding an unpleasant storm over his summary re- 
placement on tne hackneyed plea of ill-health. This 
one fact may have impaired their judgment. While 
the issue was being debated, the Chinese struck the 
leaderless force in Thagla. Herein lies the danger of 
political interference in the appointment of field com- 
manders. There is no doubt that any other general 
who had fallen ill would have been replaced at once. 
In Mankekar’s words: “Kaul lacked, at that moment, 
that mental poise and tranquillity essential for clear- 
thinking and cool decision making”. An ordinary 
general would not have been permitted to retain a lien 
on his appointment. There would have been no 
extraneous factors introduced into a straight-forward 
matter. There would have no thought given to the 
repercussions on the General’s reputation, and what 
others would think. In fact the change would probably 
have gone unnoticed by the Public. Herein lies another 
lesson. Generals of the Indian Army should not become 
controversial figures. They should serve in anonymity 
and should have no outside sponsorship. 



354 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Gen. Kaul is silent about the contretemps between 
Gen. Prasad and myself on 19th October. He is also 
silent about the order to move the rest of the Gorkhas 
to Tsangle, on the morning of 20th October. This 
silence is eloquent and bears its own testimony. Kaul 
was in touch with his HQ. at Tezpur throughout his 
stay in Delhi, and Brig. K. K. Singh, his BGS, spoke to 
him on the morning of 20th October to inform him of 
the Chinese invasion. Are we to believe that the BGS 
did not inform him about the mounting tension of 
19th October after promising GOG 4 Division that 
he would do so? The answer is contained in the 
question. Kaul’s diary entries in his book “The 
Untold Story”, for the fateful day of 19th October 
ramble on and on with details of his medical diagnosis; 
our faulty road-building policy; our failure to procure 
the right sort of animals for the mountains and the 
better Chinese road communications. What is tire 
point of these condemnatory soliloquies about matters 
with which he himself had dealt as Quarter-Master 
General of the Army and as a permanent member of 
the Border Roads Committee? It can legitimately be 
assumed that Kaul wishes to give the impression that 
he was not concerned with the conduct of operations 
on the 19th. His absence due to illness, absolves him 
from responsibility. The Brigade Commander should 
explain the omissions which led 7 Brigade to be 
overrun ! 

Haul’s failure to ensure uninterrupted command and 
control after his evacuation to De lhi on 18th October, was 
bis fifth and final blonder. 

The most frequent question that I have been asked, 
about the Thagla Affair, is to explain how I came to 
be stuck at the Namku Chu specially after the Chinese 
build-up was an established fact. Some have even 
suggested that I should have walked out with my 
Brigade and damned the consequences. I hope that 
this narrative of the dismal events from 8th September 
onwards will enlighten them. I hope it will also alert 



7 BRIGADE WITHOUT HIGHER LEADERSHIP 355 

those who may find themselves in a similar predica- 
ment. 

* * * 

On the evening of the 19th I had another un- 
expected and weary visitor in Captain Harjeet Singh 
Talwar, a strapping young Singh. He had lost his 
bearing while trying to make for Tsangle and after com- 
pleting a circle had fetched up at the Rajputs, at 
Bridge IV. He was being sent as the Forward Obser- 
vation Officer to the garrison at Tsangle, to control 
the fire of two light, outranged para-field guns, with 
450 rounds. No one would believe me when I said 
that Tsangle was out of range. Planning was still 
based on the famous field sketch of the Assam Rifles 
Lance-naik, which showed Tsangle at the end of the 
foolscap sheet, and which appeared to be within range! 

Talwar and his men were dead beat, as they too 
had been hurriedly rushed from Agra and had never 
seen a mountain in their lives. The sole reason for 
selecting them was the fact that their guns were the only 
artillery pieces which could be air-dropped at Tsangdhar. 
Here was the final proof of the futility of deluding our- 
selves by rushing troops to the Himalayas and com- 
forting ourselves with the belief that the soldiers have 
been provided with artillery cover! 

Talwar was to share my grim experiences of 
marching over the 18,000-foot Dhola Pass, and my 
capture by the Chinese. He was a fine young gentle- 
man and officer. I was indeed lucky and proud to 
have known him, and to have had him with me during 
those trying days. I could not have wished for a better 
officer to share my ordeals. He was a silent witness to 
the last amazing hours of 19th October, and told me 
that he could hardly believe his ears when he overheard 
the conversation between Gen. Prasad and myself. 

* * * 

The last memory I have of the frustrating day of 
19th October is a conversation with Lt.-Col. Rikh of 



356 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


the Rajputs. He gave me a clear and lucid assessment 
of the Chinese, in their assembly areas. He told me that 
he had rung up each company commander, told them 
to intensify patrolling and if the enemy attacked to 
fight to the last. His last words were, “Don’t worry, 
sir, despite the Chinese superiority, the Rajputs will 
not let you or the country down. We will fight till 
we have nothing more to fight with. If you get back 
please see that the culprits who landed us in this 
mess get their just punishment”. The Rajputs honoured 
their brave promise and obeyed their CO to the last 
letter. They fought most gallantly in the face of 
impossible odds. 



Chapter XXII 


The Ethics of Resigning A Field Command 

Before dropping off to sleep I ruminated about what 
I might have done to avoid landing my Brigade in this 
mess. Up to 10th October I had been assured by all 
the senior officers who came to see me that they would 
go back to the next HQ, and try to put some sense into 
our military thinking and political postures. I there- 
fore had no reason to do anything more. 

Every soldier will understand my wish to be 
released from responsibilities which I could not dis- 
charge and which were unbearable due to interminable, 
nerve-racking wrangles with one’s own superiors. How 
does one command without authority, operational 
freedom and resources? How does a brigadier com- 
mand a political battle when the highest in the land 
are directing the efforts of his brigade ? 

I was alone and lonely at this crucial stage and, 
for the first time, felt the full impact of the loneliness of 
command. The problem of resigning oppressed me 
particularly from 10th October onwards. I was ham- 
strung as I could not pick up a jeep and rush over to 
my superiors. I was isolated and unless senior officers 
chose to visit me there was no possibility of personal 
conVact. \ shordd not have accepted the order to 
defend all the bridges over the Namka Ghu on the 13th 
of October, but then “It takes more courage to appear 
a coward than risk being killed”. 

I decided that my place was with the troops who 
had followed me loyally to the Namka Chu. I could 
not bring myself to abandon all sense of responsibility 
to them, desert and leave them to their fate. In all 
humility, I felt sure that their loyal obedience was 



358 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


largely due to my presence with them throughout the 
operation. My. departure would have meant more 
than a change in the person of the Commander. 

The first difficulty was that up to 20th October we 
were not at war with the Chinese. This was a vital 
factor. The thinking even at the Prime Minister’s level 
was that the Chinese would not do anything big, and 
our entire approach was based on this fundamental 
political appreciation. If I left on tactical grounds, 
and the Chinese did not attack, I could be branded a 
physical coward. I did not have the moral courage 
to accept this stigma. 

Even if I overcame my fears of being labelled a 
coward, what useful purpose would I serve by leaving 
other than to save my own skin ? I knew that it would 
have been virtually impossible to replace me in a matter 
of days. The Chinese would not give us time to 
position a replacement. Any successor would have 
needed time to get acclimatised, visit the troops, study 
the ground, and otherwise “play himself in”. Wien 
every hour is vital there is no justification for a change 
ot Commanders. The valiant troops deserved a better 
fate than this. 

On balance I decided to stay with my Brigade and 
share their fate. If I had to make this decision again 
1 would still opt to do what I did. I can only pray and 
hope that no Brigadier of the Indian Army is ever called 
upon to face such difficult options in a future “peace- 
time border clash. 

Field Marshal, von Manstein, was possibly the 
ablest Commander in the German Army in World War 
U and of whom Capt. Lidell Hart, the noted British 
military historian says.: “. . .he had military genius”. 
Manstein was responsible for conducting the efforts to 
relieve the trapped German Sixth Army at Stalingrad 
m 1942. He repeatedly clashed with Hitler who 
ret used, to allow any withdrawal, creating in Manstein, 
that crisis of conscience which is the lot of every soldier 



THE ETHICS OF RESIGNING A FIELD COMMAND 359 


in history who has had to face political interference or 
and unsympathetic superior commander - to resign or 
not to resign? 

Field Marshal Manstein has expressed the senti- 
ments and contradictions of all commanders, in his 
Memoirs: Lost Victories. Writing of the feelings which 
oppressed him when he had failed to persuade Hider 
and the German High Command on the overall strategic 
issues he says: 

“But let me make a few general remarks here on 
the question of a senior commander’s resignation in the 
field. The first point is that a senior commander is no 
more able to pack up and go home than any other 
soldier. . . . The soldier in the field is not in the 
pleasant position of a politician, who is always at liberty 
to climb off the band-wagon when things go wrong, 
or the line taken by the Government does not suit him. 
The soldier has to fight where and when he is ordered”. 

He adds: “This question of resignation has another 
aspect, however, besides the one mentioned above. 
I refer to the feeling of responsibility which a senior 
commander must have towards the soldiers”. 

He concludes in these sonorous words: “To throw 
up my task at this moment, however justifiable the 
human motives might be . . . struck me as a betrayal 
of those brave troops who were locked in a life-and- 
death struggle”. 

* Italics author's. 



Chapter XXIII 


The Trap is Set 

At the risk of being repetitious, I would briefly 
survey the military situation as on the night of 19th 
October 1962, to enable readers to appreciate the 
inevitability of the defeat of the scarecrow Indian Force, 
on the morrow. The Country and the Army should 
not be ashamed for the defeat at Thagla Ridge or 
Dhola as the odds were too grossly uneven to leave the 
issue in doubt. Free India had followed the same path 
as her feudal past. Her brave soldiers were not given 
the semblance of a chance to win this battle. Inept 
leadership and mental black-outs had set up 7 Brigade 
for destruction, trapped and without any escape route. 
The rest of the Indian Army was over 1,500 miles away. 
And this unhappy predicament had been accepted on 
the fallacious foundation of Chinese good behaviour. 
India’s long dream of peace and progress was about 
to end. ^ Nehru’s long era of undisputed rule had 
reached its penumbra. The invasion of NEFA was to 
be the swansong of Nehru as a leader. 

*7 Infantry Brigade was stretched along a 12-mile 
front along the Namka Chu River, from Bridge I to 
Tsangle. The marching distance from one end of the 
Brigade area of responsibility to the other was a mini- 
mum ^ of five days! To grasp the true danger of the 
situation and the full extent to which it benefitted the 
Chinese, the reader should retain a clear picture of the 
mortal gaps between the scattered pockets of our troops. 
The Brigade remained ill-clad and without adminis- 
trative and medical cover, and dependent on the 
unsatisfactory dropping zone at Tsangdhar. 

The only fire support for the entire front was from 

Octolf S 1962 1 111 f ° r lay0Ut ° f Indian troo P* on ,he eve of battIc ‘ ,9th 



THE TRAP IS SET 


361 


two para-field guns with 421 rounds; and four 4. 2-inch 
mortars with 450 rounds. There were only two 
artillery observation parties for all the widespread 
localities. 

The units did not have a single strand of barbed 
wire or a single anti-personnel mine. They had no 
ammunition reserves. The Rajputs had four 3-inch 
mortars with a total of GO bombs and only 17 Light 
Machine Gun magazines filled per gun. Each man 
had two grenades only. There were very' few 2-inch 
mortars bombs. The limited dumping that had been 
achieved between 10th and 19th October had been 
diverted to Tsangle. 

There was no overall strategic plan or dispositions 
to give depth to 7 Brigade; or to provide lay-back 
positions to cover the withdrawal of the Namka Chu 
garrison. There was a blind refusal to even contem- 
plate withdrawal. While this was valid as political 
bravado, it was inexcusable in military planning. 

Security was completely ignored. Tsangdhar, the 
life-line of the Brigade and the only gun position was 
held by a weak infantry company. Lumpu the only 
other dropping zone was innocent of bayonets and rifles. 
There was no co-ordination between the Namka Chu 
and the Nyam Jang Chu sectors. The latter was 
directly under Divisional HQ,. Hathungla Pass was 
held by one platoon which was also under 4 Division. 
A Divisional HQ, commanding a rifle platoon! 

(The layout of the Battalions is shown in sketch III). 
1/9 Gorkhas, less two companies, were preparing to 
move to Tsangle. They had already sent a company 
on the 17 th, and one company was at Tsangdhar 
waiting to join the main body the following day. 

The Rajputs were spread out from Bridges III to 
Log Bridge. 

9 Punjab held Bridge II, and had one company 
detached to Tsangle (Bridge V). 



362 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


4 Grenadiers held Bridge I with a battalion less 
two companies. One company had been loaned to 
the Nyam Jang Chu Sector and was located at Khen- 
zemane. Even on 19th October we were still ‘loaning’ 
troops from one unit to another. One company was 
between Hathungla and Serkhim, under Division. 

There was thus no brigade defended area and no 
co-ordination between the forces deployed to guard the 
two main axes i.e. Hathungla-Lumpu and Tsangdhar- 
Lumpu. We violated the well-known maxim: “He 
who tries to hold on to everything at once, finishes up 
by holding nothing”. There was no co-ordinated fire 
plan, and no worth-while defensive fire arrangements. 
There was no real control possible by the CO’s or myself 
due to distances, and the vulnerability of the main 
tracks. (They all ran parallel to the Chinese positions 
on the North bank of the Namka Chu). When the 
Chinese attack came, all the actions were small in- 
dependent company strength battles. 

The command structure, which was never properly 
established, had disintegrated with the untimely illness 
of Gen. Kaul. 

On the other side the Chinese, with their manifold 
superiority, were in their forming-up places on com- 
manding ground. At night they lit bonfires to keep 
themselves warm. This disdainful and contemptuous 
action was the final act of humiliation against the 
motley force pitted against them. They knew well that 
we were helpless and could do nothing to forestall them 
or disrupt their battle-formations. If I remember right, 
the last time that this happened was at the Battle of 
Austerlitz, in 1802, when the French lit fires in front of 
the Russians on the night preceding the famous Battle. 
The close proximity of the combatants gave a quality of 
fantasy to the proceedings. The feelings of the men 
were compounded of awe and disbelief- that this 
surely, could not be war; it must be a show of force. 
Had 7 Brigade been given the normal complement of 



THE TRAP IS SET 


363 


artillery support the Chinese would not have dared to 
form up openly in the face of the defensive fire that 
would have been rained on them. The Cliinese 
Commander had a relatively easy task as he could 
isolate the Rajputs at Bridges III and IV and cut a way 
to Lumpu. To achieve his aim i.e. the destruction of 7 
Brigade he had to attack but a third of it. The re- 
mainder could be encircled in subsequent phases. All 
this had led, with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy, 
to the climatic decision that awaited the morrow of 
20th October. 



Chapter XXIV 


The Day of Reckoning — 20th October 1962 

“JVe were Stabbed in the Bad L”. — Nehru 

At exactly 5 on the morning of 20th October 1962, 
the Chinese opposite Bridge III fired two Vcrcy lights. 
This signal was followed by a cannonade of over 150 
guns and heavy mortars, exposed on the forward slopes 
of Thagla. Our positions at Bridges III and IV; 
Tsangdhar; Log and Temporary Bridges and Brigade 
HQ,, which was some 1,000 yards from the River bank 
came in for a heavy bombardment. The Chinese used 
76 mm guns which were fed and fired automatically, 
and 120 mm mortars. 

This was the moment of truth. Thagla Ridge was 
no longer, at that moment, a piece of ground. It was 
the crucible to test, weigh and purify India’s foreign 
and defence policies. As the first salvoes crashed over- 
head there were a few minutes of petrifying shock. 
The contrast with the tranquillity that had obtained 
hitherto made it doubly impressive. The proximity of 
the two forces made it seem like an act of treachery. It 
had started. This was the end of years of miscalcula- 
tions; months of suspense; days of hope and the end of 
a confused, nightmare week. The cataclysm broke on 
the dawn of a day which India will never forget. 
Every elementary text-book of history will carry the 
sad story of India’s humiliation. The Battle at the 
Namka Chu must surely achieve the black prominence 
of the Battles of Panipat and Plassey. 

The Chinese did not bombard the Punjabis and 
the Grenadiers at Bridges I and II thereby giving final 
proof of their plan which was to concentrate their effort 
on the narro\v Dhola-Tsangdhar Sector. If they 



THE DAY OF RECKONING 


365 


succeeded in reaching Lumpu the others would be 
trapped and dealt with while withdrawing over Ha- 
th ungla Pass. No orderly or organised rearward move 
was possible in the circumstances, as there were no 
worthwhile lay-back positions, to cover the withdrawal. 

The Chinese also shelled Khenzemanc prior to an 
attack against this check-post, threatened Divisional HQ, 
at Ziminthaung and opened the way to a second thrust 
towards Lumpu - along the Nyam Jang Chu Valley. 

The bombardment lasted an hour and soon after 
massive infantry assaults followed, substantiating 
Nelson’s famous dictum: “Only numbers can anni- 
hilate”. The fate of India was now in the hands of 
only three weak infantry companies of the Rajput 
Regiment and two unbalanced companies of the 
9th Gorkhas. At that time India had an Army of over 
400,000 men but due to our stubborn refusal to think 
in strategic terms, only 600 men were engaged in the 
initial batde. This flimsy barrier was pierced with 
consummate ease by the powerful force which the 
Chinese had mustered, to teach India a lasting lesson. 

1/9 Gorkhas were preparing to leave for Tsanglc 
when the Chinese barrage commenced and were thus 
caught flat-footed through no fault of theirs. It is 
significant that this fact has been generally glossed over 
by all writers and commentators on the NEFA battles. 
It is a matter of shame that this fine regular Battalion 
of the Indian Army should have been brought to this 
sad pass. 

1/9 Gorkhas coincidentally formed part of 4 Divi- 
sion in Italy and gained imperishable fame during the 
Third Battle of Cassino, in 1944. The Gorkhas faced 
troops of the First German Parachute Division which 
was^ classed by FM Lord Alexander, the Allied G-in-C, 
as ‘The best division in the German Army’. The 
Battalion was given the task of capturing Hangman’s 
Hill, a key feature in the Cassino defences. I will let 
Mr. F. Majdalany recount their gallantry: “For eight 



366 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


days and nights, this battalion of Gorkhas on Hangman’s 
Hill occupied an exposed shoulder of the mountains, 
an area about 200 square yards, 250 yards from the 
Monastery - concealed from it only by a crag. For 
eight days and nights therefore they lived on an exposed 
cliff-face, in mid-winter, without even a coat to protect 
them against icy winds, the frequent rainstorms and a 
temperature which seldom rose above freezing point 
and at night, well below it”. 

Majdalany’s final tribute to these men will warm 
the hearts of all those who admire and honour bravery. 
He sums up: “In the extraordinary ordeal of 1/9 
Gorkhas on Hangman’s Hill, it provided one of the 
genuine epics of the War”. 

The l/9th were not strangers to mountain hard- 
ships nor did they lack professional skill. In the Namka 
Chu they were not given the semblance of a chance to 
fight as a battalion. Their hapless plight was the 
responsibility of others. 

I got through to Gen. Prasad at once and reported 
the Chinese attacks. I told him that there was now 
no question of the Gorkhas leaving for Tsangle as they 
were embroiled in a fight with the Chinese; moreover 
they would walk straight into Chinese artillery fire on 
the way to, and at Tsangdhar itself. Prasad then told 
me to send at least a patrol of the Gorkhas if I could not 
send the whole battalion “as this move had been 
ordered at the highest level” ... as if I still needed 
to be reminded of this. I just could not believe my 
ears. This was the final proof of the utter degradation 
and frustration that had seized us all due to pressure 
from and fear of ‘the highest level’. We were unable 
at any time to think in military terms or adduce profes- 
sional arguments to override military objections. In fact 
from the very beginning, many were merely instruments 
for relaying orders even when they disagreed with 
them. The military command set-up had never really 
functioned. The misuse of Civil Supremacy (so pleasant 



THE DAY OF RECKONING 


367 


in times of peace) and the suppression of senior ofliccrs 
were being paid for. India’s honour was about to be 
trampled upon and her military reputation sullied. 
I need hardly add that the Gorkhas did not leave for 
Tsangle. 

* * * 

♦Until we have access to Chinese documents all 
estimates of their forces and deployment arc essentially 
guesswork. From what I could gather, I am confident 
that they used a minimum of two divisions, with 
possibly a third in reserve -a total of 20,000 men. 
The Rajput and Gorkha positions in the Dhola area 
were assaulted simultaneously with two brigades. One 
brigade was used to deal with Tsangdhar - a vital 
objective for both sides. One brigade moved on the 
Khcnzcmanc-Drokung Samba-Zimintliaung axis. 

Other columns were sent to Hathungla to seal that 
escape route and destroy the retreating Indian force 
from Bridges I and II. It was obvious that these 
positions would be untenable once the Chinese had 
wiped out the Dhola defenders. One column left for 
Towang from the Nyam Jang Chu to threaten this vital 
ground from the west. A large Cliincsc force was poised 
to capture Towang from the Bumla axis, in the north. 

At all events, within a few minutes of the Chinese 
attack, 7 Brigade lost its cohesion. There was no hope 
of reinforcement or influencing the battle in any way. 
I had no reserves and very soon no communication with 
my battalions as the lines were cut. Battalion com- 
manders too could wot cowvKvv.wi.cotc vfvtlv tlvcw cowvpTiWy 
commanders as all internal lines were destroyed. The 
unit wireless operators closed down as they had to man 
defences when the Cluncse began physical assaults 
against their HQ,’s. 

The Chinese had encircled us with one large and 
two small pinccr movements. Before mounting frontal 
attacks ag ainst the Rajputs they had infiltrated one 

OctobeiM9f2 111 for thc direction and pattern of the Chinese attacks on 20th 



368 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


battalion behind them, and cut off the Gorkhas from 
the Rajputs. The Rajputs were attacked from two 
directions at the same time. They had no hope. They 
were trapped. 

The Rajputs and Gorkhas put up a spirited fight 
against overwhelming odds for over three hours despite 
the demoralising lack of artillery defensive fire support. 

Events took place with such bewildering swiftness 
that it is difficult to piece together an accurate account 
of the tactical battle. The Namka Chu battle-field 
soon became a mosaic of sprawling humans locked in 
mortal combat. The men fought in small sub-units 
under their officers and JGO’S and continued to resist 
even when isolated and encircled. A random sample 
of group and individual heroism will best throw into 
relief the pattern of fighting. 

Let me start with that gallant soldier Lt.-CoJ. 
Rikh who was located at Bridge IV with his HQ,, one 
rifle company and the usual specialist platoons. Within 
minutes of the opening Chinese salvoes, Rikh’s Signals 
bunker was demolished, killing all the signallers including 
Captain Mangat. Soon after, the Mortar Platoon was 
wiped out -swiftly and competently. 

The Bridge IV garrison repulsed two waves of 
Chinese attackers. Ultimately the ‘big battalions’ pre- 
vailed. The third attack wiped out a whole platoon 
of Bengalis, commanded by Jemadar Biswas, who was 
killed leading a gallant, but hopeless bayonet charge. 

After most of the localities had been overrun, 
Major Gordial Singh, the second-in-command rallied 
the remnants and led a personal assault. Most of this 
brave band were killed. Gurdial himself was over- 
powered and captured. He was awarded a Maha Vir 
Chakra, the second highest gallantry award, while in 
captivity. 

When resistance had virtually collapsed, Rikh’s 
command bunker was the last to hold out. It was 
surrounded by the Chinese who used every inducement 



THE DAY OF RECKONING 


369 


to get Rikh to surrender, but he refused. He and those 
with him continued to engage the enemy. He had 
with him Captain Bhatia his adjutant, Lieut. Bhup 
Singh his Intelligence Officer and his batman. The 
Chinese plastered the bunker with machine-gun fire. 
When this failed to produce a surrender, a Chinese 
soldier crawled up and threw a hand-grenade. Captain 
Bhatia was killed and Rikh suffered multiple injuries in 
the jaw, left shoulder and left elbow. A final pole- 
charge sealed the fate of the already dazed inmates. 
The Chinese rushed the bunker and captured the un- 
conscious CO and the helpless Bhup Singh. 

Captain Bhatia was a very fine young officer and 
had been specially selected to be an instructor at the 
National Defence Academy at Poona. He was due to 
take his farewell of the men and leave on the 20th 
morning. Fate ruled otherwise and snuffed the life 
of this promising youth. 

This story of gallantry beyond the call of duty was 
re-enacted in many platoons and companies. At 
Temporary Bridge Naik Roshan Singh’s section clung 
doggedly to its position till every man was killed. 

Subedar Dasrath Singh’s platoon was reduced to 
seven men and had exhausted its ammunition in re- 
pulsing three Chinese attacks. Undeterred, the gallant 
men, led by Dasrath, got ready to show the Chinese 
what the Rajputs were made of. They charged the 
fourth attacking wave with the bayonet. In the ensuing 
hand to hand fighting four more men were killed. The 
three survivors, seriously wounded, were captured. 

Jemadar Bose’s platoon was left with only ten men 
after halting three Chinese attacks. He too charged 
with the bayonet and gave his life — as did most of his 
platoon. 

I hope that the conduct and gallantry of Jemadars 
Biswas and Bose and their men will forever still the 
voices of those who delight in denigrating the martial 



370 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


prowess of our Bengali brethren. They fought with 
great elan and determination. 

Major B. K. Pant’s leadership and indomitable 
courage is a true epic. When the Chinese shelling 
commenced, Pant went round the locality bracing the 
men for the inevitable assault. He told the men that 
this was the day in which they would write a new chapter 
in the history of the battalion ; and the time had come 
to show the Chinese the qualities which had made the 
name Rajput synonymous with courage and tenacity. 
Pant was wounded in the leg as he insisted in exposing 
himself during the shelling to reassure his men who had 
never experienced artillery fire. In spite of this he 
hobbled around telling the men that when the time came 
the fight must be to the last man and the last round. 

. The company held fast against three waves of 
Chinese attacks and suffered heavy casualties. The 
enemy called for heavier artillery concentrations before 
launching the fourth attack. Pant was wounded in 
the stomach and both legs. Despite his agony he 
continued to inspire his men, who seeing the indomit- 
able will of this man, rose to super-human heights and 
broke the fourth attack. Pant losing blood rapidly 
was nearing his end but would not cry enough. He 
shouted, to the men that Rajputs never give up and 
never die. His last stirring clarion call was to remind 
his jawans to fulfill their destiny and historical role as 
members of the martial clan from whom descend all 
other fighting men in India. 

His last words were: “Men of the Rajput Regi- 
ment, you were bom but to die for your country. 
has selected this small river for which you must die. 
Stand up and fight as true Rajputs. 

The Chinese realised that Major Pant was die main 
impediment in their way and the cause of their heavy 
casualties and directed all their attention to him. 
Heavy machine-gun fire was brought to bear on him 
and he was soon riddled with bullets. He died proudly 



THE DAY OF RECKONING 


371 


shouting, as so many Rajput warriors have done over 
the centuries, the famous Rajput battle-cry: “Bajrang 
Bali ki Jai”. 

Major Pant’s force of 112 men had 82 killed and 
wounded. What more can a country ask of its brave 
sons? 

Space prevents me from recounting other similar 
deeds. I would also like to emphasise that it is not my 
intention to make any invidious comparisons between 
the Rajputs and my other Battalions who all did 
what was asked of them, in the highest traditions of 
the Indian Army. If the Rajputs hold the limelight 
it is only because it was their destiny to bear the full 
brunt of the Chinese assault of 20th October 1962. 

The Chinese later admitted to one of our senior 
prisoners-of-war that they had suffered the maximum 
casualties of the NEFA fighting in the first battle - and 
these casualties had been inflicted mostly by 2 Rajputs. 

The Gorkhas fought extremely well. Their CO, 
Lt.-Col. Ahluwalia was severely wounded and later 
captured. The Battalion’s good work was recognised 
by the award of many gallantry medals. 

The Punjabis who had borne the brunt of the 
fighting from 15th September and who had fought the 
Chinese to a standstill were out-flanked and suffered all 
their casualties while withdrawing over Hathungla Pass 
and the Dhola Massif. The same fate befell the 
Grenadiers. 

These two famous units were sacrificed without a 
fight due to our faulty dispositions. The Punjabis, 
who were the best prepared for an attack lost many 
fives without being given the chance to offer a fight. 
The Chinese gave them a wide berth and were content 
to inflict casualties on stragglers. 

The Ts angle Garrison of Punjabis and Gorkhas 
which for days was the most threatened and which had 
no means of defending itself, was able to escape practi- 



372 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


cally unscathed. They withdrew via Bhutan. Such 
are the fortunes of war. 

By 7.45 a.m. it was clear that the Chinese were 
about to overrun all our positions in the Dhola 
Sector. Brigade HQ, was about to be encircled as the 
Gorkhas had been forced to withdraw towards Tsang- 
dhar, thereby exposing its left flank. The Rajput 
resistence had been overcome and the front was also 
exposed. 

In three short hours the flower of two regular 
Battalions had been hacked to pieces without a chance 
to do anything but die like men. I hope that their 
sacrifice will teach us the lessons that we must learn if 
we are to take our rightful place in the world community. 

The full story of the ill-fated Thagla Battle, if the 
massacre can be dignified by such a title, may never 
be known as many who took part were killed in action. 
The others have had to submit to the shackles of active 
service in the Army. Under-supplied and ill-prepared, 
these men fought a lonely mountain battle and few' in 
the_ rest of the Country, or indeed the Army knew of 
their ordeal and their squandered heroism, unredeemed 
by the faintest trace of success. 

The Gorkhas, the Rajputs, the Sikhs, the Dogras, 
the Bengalis, the Mussalmans of the Grenadiers, the 
Ahirs, the South Indian Signallers and all the others 
from the four corners of India had nothing to sustain 
them but their regimental pride and traditions. They 
had done what they had done because they were 
soldiers. For no man can do more than give his life 
for his Country. 

The heavy casualties suffered by 7 Brigade speak 
for themselves. The Rajputs who had 513 all ranks 
in the Namka Chu had the following casualties: 

(a) Killed -282 including 4 Officers and 6 jCOs 

(b) Wounded and captured 81, including 2 Officers 
and 3 JCO’s (c) Captured umvounded 90 including 
3 Officers and 2 JCO’s. Only 60 all ranks or about 



THE DAY OF RECKONING 


373 


9 per cent got away and these were mainly from rear 
and administrative parties left behind at Tsangdhar, 
Lumpu and Towang. 

* * * 

The Chinese shifted their attention to Tsangdhar 
which they had begun shelling from 5 a.m. The first 
attack was mounted at 9 a.m. by the Chinese force 
which had by-passed our positions on the River bank, 
between Temporary Bridge and Bridge V, on the night 
of 19th/20th October. Despite its being declared vital 
ground as early as the 10th of September, it was thinly 
held by an assortment of administrative personnel, a 
weak Gorkha company packing up to leave for Tsangle 
and two troops of Gunners. 

Early on the morning of the 20 th, our transport 
aircraft came to carry out drops as usual but were 
quickly shooed-off by Chinese fire. No one had 
bothered to tell the Air Force that a battle was im- 
minent or had in fact started. We did not believe in 
unity of command and obviously Army- Air co-operation 
was not functioning smoothly. 

The next unwary visitor to Tsangdhar was a 
helicopter carrying Major Ram Singh, second-in-com- 
mand of the Divisional Signals Regiment and piloted 
by Flight-Lieutenant Sehgal. It was promptly shot 
down and all the occupants were killed. It will be 
recalled that Gen. Prasad was due to visit me and 
stay to share the fate of my Brigade. When news of 
the Chinese attack reached Divisional HQ, and soon 
after communications were severed, Ram Singh pre- 
vailed upon the GOG not to fly to Tsangdhar till the 
tactical position cleared a bit. Prasad was adamant 
that he would keep his promise to me. Thereupon 
Ram volunteered to go first and find out what had 
happened. These two young men gave their lives to 
save their General. They were brave and deserve 
mention in this chronicle of the Thagla Affair. 



374 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The Divisional Signal Regiment was thus left 
without both its Commanding Officer who had been 
captured while with the Gorkhas and its second-in- 
command. 

* * * 

The Battalions could not have tried harder or 
fought more gallantly. It was not their fault that they 
were called upon to face a massive assault without the 
necessary fire support and defence stores; and from a 
tactically indefensible position. With the supply line 
being what it was they had no chance to stock-pile 
ammunition and prepare the defences required to beat- 
off a set-piece attack by a Chinese Force which out- 
numbered them by at least 20 to 1. The men had 
fought till exhaustion of ammunition had left them 
defenceless in the face of an overwhelmingly superior 
enemy. 

Let all those who talked of our troops running 
away from the Chinese cut off their tongues in resti- 
tution for their slanderous statements against the men 
whose bravery alone could not compensate for the 
years of neg]ect , and the final inept political and military 
leadership which they were given. Once again in the 
history of India we see the heroism of her simple, tough 
peasantry wasted against an adversary who displayed 
better leadership; had better weapons and better 
military organisation. 

* * * 

At 8 a.m. I decided to move to Tsangdhar. and 
reform there with the Gorkhas. The fate of the Rajputs 
was sealed as they had no escape route. I had earlier 
told Gen. Prasad that my intention was to move to 
Tsangdhar when forced to abandon the Namka Chu 
and he had approved. Anyway at this stage his 
approval was only of academic interest. No amount 
of political necessity or public clamour could now halt 
the Chinese onslaught. 



THE DAY OF RECKONING 


375 


I gave Major Kharbanda, my Brigade Major 
orders to move to Tsangdhar; The Commander’s party 
to leave at 8. 15 and the main body at 8.30 a.m. The 
Brigade Major needed time to burn secret papers which 
he personally did before leaving. Major Kharbanda 
and Major Pereira remained calm and unruffled 
throughout. The Brigade HQ, was not ‘overrun’ at 
7 a.m. or at any time. The men moved as an organised 
body and in an orderly manner. Let Gen. Prasad tell 
the story. He said, in an official report: “On 20th 
October 1962, Brigadier Dalvi was with his Brigade 
HQ at Rongla, in the Namka Chu Valley when the 
Chinese attacked 7 Brigade’s positions in overwhelming 
strength. He remained at his post directing operations 
as best as he could. Finally when the enemy had 
overrun all the forward positions and had carried the 
fighting to the Left and the Rear of the Brigade HQ, 
Brigadier Dalvi asked my permission to withdraw to 
Tsangdhar and reorganise there. He moved only on 
my direct orders, but before he could get to Tsangdhar 
the enemy had already occupied this feature”. 

* * * 

Thus ended the ill-fated confrontation in the 
Kameng Frontier Division outpost positions on the 
Namka Chu and Thagla Ridge. This was the tragic 
end to a week which had begun with Nehru’s Olympian 
edict to ‘throw out’ the Chinese and had finished with 
the complete rout of the out-numbered and out- 
weaponed troops. We were not prepared to give an 
inch and lost thousands of square miles. The years of 
credulity and negligence were expiated. Bleeding 
from a thousand wounds, 7 Brigade expired: but India 
was to go on bleeding for many more years. 

* * * 

Were the Chinese supermen as has been made out 
by some uninformed commentators? I have discussed 
the Chinese tactics with many of my officers. The 
general consensus is that the Chinese used orthodox 



376 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


methods of fire and movement and pressed home their 
charges with determination. They were not afraid to 
close-in. Having said this, let me hasten to add that 
they were neither startingly original nor were they 
supermen. 

They were well-equipped and clothed. I was 
amused to read the fiction about the Chinese being 
short of small arms weapons and how the follow-up 
waves of infantry had to rely on the weapons of their 
dead comrades. More self-delusions! 

The most impressive display of Chinese training 
was their uncannily accurate artillery barrages despite 
their dependence on silent registeration. Their attacks 
were preceded by supporting fire of pin-point accuracy. 
The freedom to take close-quarter bearings paid them 
handsomely. They have been apt pupils and had 
emulated the renowned Russian aptitude for heavy and 
accurate artillery support. 

It would be wrong to make sweeping deductions 
from the one-sided Thagla Battle. I will conclude by 
saying that the Chinese Army in Tibet is kept well- 
trained, physically fit and adept at night fighting. 

The real Chinese success can be attributed to their 
High Command. They had manoeuvred the Thagla 
incident with cunning; and the Chinese soldier had 
delivered the coup-de-grace with skill and fanaticism. This 
is the epitome of war. 

Having out-witted us they feigned to be the inno- 
cent party and added insult to injury. They received 
a good deal of help from our preposterous chest- 
thumping in the days preceding the battle. 

The Chinese told the world that: “At 7 o’clock 
(Peking time) in the morning of 20th October the 
aggresive Indian forces, under cover of fierce artillery 
fire launched massive attacks against the Chinese 
Frontier Guards all along the Kachileng River and in 
the Khenzemane area”. The poor Chinese were 



THE DAY OF RECKONING 


377 


driven to self-defence by the fire of two out-ranged 
para-guns with 400 rounds of ammunition! The actual 
truth was well expressed by one Army Officer to the 
UPI Correspondent: “The Indian Army’s mission was 
the defence of a political instead of a tactical position. 
The troops slaughtered along the Namka Ghu River 
were spread out in a thin line difficult to supply and 
impossible to defend”. 

The same old story of the wolf and the Iamb with 
a new setting, new costumes, new make-up and a new 
cast. Tragically, our own inept and ill-conceived 
bombast gave the Chinese a faint trace of plausibility 
to assume the role of the injured party. 

* * * 

I have told my story so that the Indian People 
should know the truth about their brave soldiers. 
There have been culprits who have had no compunction 
in directing the public wrath and chagrin to the Army’s 
alleged ineptitude. There has also been an attempt 
to under-play the valour of the jawan. 

It was galling to hear under-clad females of the 
cocktail circuits of Delhi and Bombay sidle up to me, 
after being told who I was, and say, “Brigadier, what 
happened to you chaps against the Chinese?” Their 
husbands usually had well paid jobs and were under- 
employed. The only problems these delightful and 
sophisticated people faced were of getting spare parts 
for their smuggled goods; the awkward business of 
finding a reliable liquor smuggler; the chronic servant 
problem and the awfully high taxes they paid to waste 
on idle and over-paid Service Officers. 

The uninformed criticism of the ignorant is perhaps 
tolerable. Criticism from the Theatre Commander is 
more difficult to accept. Even the morning of 20th 
October is not sacred. In describing the short battle 
for the Namka Chu, Kaul has thrown in a last dig at 
some of the men who had sewed him faithfully then 



378 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


and have been silent and loyal since. While the 
guillotine was fallin g on the heads of the Namka Ghu 
defenders, Gen. Kaul has this remark to offer: “I heard 
from an eye-witness that it (Brigade HQ,) had not been 
prepared effectively. Parachutes had been put round 
the bushes and made into shelters against rains. Few 
trenches had been dug and hardly any defensive 
positions made**. 

The Brigade HQ was shelled from 5 a.m. to 
8.30 a.m. mostly with heavy mortars, with a high 
proportion of tree bursts — the deadliest form of bom- 
bardment to endure. Fortunately there were only 
two fatal casualties and seven wounded, all of whom 
walked backed over the Karpola I route. Had the 
Brigade HQ not been entrenched it would have been 
decimated. 

It is difficult to fathom the motive for this unfair, 
unjust, unbecoming and irrelevant remark from the 
military commander who was himself responsible for 
issuing the order which placed 7 Brigade in the plight 
in which it found itself; who was himself never 
able to provide it with the means for defending itself. 
He was the last person with any right to damn others 
for dereliction of duty. Kaul must know in his heart 
that even if the Brigade had been entrenched in concrete 
pill-boxes, behind a Maginot Line, it would still have 
been doomed. One thousand odd men could not 
have staved off 20,000 Chinese. 

In his memoirs, Gen Kaul reveals a pathological 
impulse for self-justification. He rarely admits to 
major errors of generalship, though he has freely criti- 
cised others. He had accepted a thankless task in 
NEFA but he has not enhanced his stature or made it 
easier for himself by seeking to convince posterity of 
his guiltlessness by laying the blame on everyone else. 
He accepted the task of evicting the Chinese fully aware 
of the consequences of failure as he felt that he could 
not very well ‘bicker’ about the numerous shortcomings. 



THE DAY OF RECKONING 


379 


It would have been more gracious if he had not bickered 
after his project back-fired. 

Gen. Kaul has been widely criticised in the Indian 
Press and by most commentators for trying to shift the 
blame for Ins failures to everyone from Mr. Nehru to 
the field commanders who served him. No general 
can claim a reprieve or vindicate his defeat in battle 
by claiming that he was compelled, against his better 
judgement, to execute an order that led to such a defeat. 
At the level of a Theatre Commander there are only 
two courses open. The first is to accept the entire 
responsibility for the failure, as Field Marshal Auchin- 
leck did in 1942 when in a letter to Sir "Winston 
Churchill, after the reverses in the Western Desert in 
June-July 1942, he mote: **. . . and deeply regret the 
failures and set backs for the past months, for which 
I accept full responsibility”. Noble sentiments from a 
noble man, which are worthy of emulation. 

The second alternative is to disobey orders and be 
prepared to answer with one’s head. As General 
Seydlitz said at the Battle of Zomdorf: “After the battle 
the King may dispose of my head as he wills but during 
the battle he will kindly allow me to make use of it”. 
Gen. Kaul was neither prepared to ‘use his head’ nor 
take the blame for acquiescing in carrying out wrong 
orders. It is therefore unfair to burden the forward 
troops with guilt for obeying orders as best as they 
could with the resources at hand. 

Gen. Kaul has not improved Ills case by adducing, 
at various stages, specious arguments to give a veneer 
of military thought to an episode that never had a 
military bias from the very outset. By doing so, he 
has needlessly dragged in many officers who have been 
unjustly in the shadows since 1962 due to their chance 
participation in events which they could not influence. 
Above all, he has given some people the opportunity 
to besmirch the good name of the Indian Army, as also 
to question its proficiency. 



380 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


I bear Gen. Raul no malice or ill-will. Indeed 
I bemoan the cruel downfall of a man of abundant 
talents and dynamism. He was destined for the highest 
honours. I was witness to inexplicable decisions 
which I knew would end his career. He needlessly 
gambled away his inheritance. He was a victim of a 
capricious fate which held out the promise of immor- 
tality and yet, in one bewildering stroke, broke him. 
Gen. Kaul’s career, so painstakingly built over 15 years 
(1947 to 1962) was ruined in 15 days (3rd to 18th 
October 1962). It was given to me to watch him 
commit professional Hara-kiri, step by step. It was 
not an edifying sight. 

It is more in sorrow than in anger that I have 
taken up the cudgels on behalf of the men I had the 
honour to command. 



Chapter XXV 


Captive of the Chinese Army 

The play is ended and it only remains for me to tell 
the story of my capture by the Chinese Army of which 
each writer has given his own garbled version. While 
my HQ, was moving to Tsangdhar, through a narrow 
re-entrant, we were subjected to incessant and accurate 
arrirtfery /ire. 1 was convinced that a Ciiinese Artillery 
Observation Officer was conducting the shoot. The 
deadly Chinese fire forced us to take cover every 70 to 
80 seconds and in the process we lost our cohesion and 
formation. It was impossible to keep track of each other, 
with the result that the HQ, split into small groups. 
I lost touch with the main body of my HQ. 

The Chinese stopped shelling us at about 1 p.m. 
I do not know if they ran out of ammunition or they 
desisted from further bloodshed because they just got 
tired of hitting stragglers, without retaliation. When 
I took stock of the position I found myself with Major 
Nijjar, the Officer Commanding the Mortars, Captain 
Gupta, my Intelligence Officer and Captain Talwar 
the Officer who had strayed into my HQ the previous 
evening. They had started out with me as part of the 
Commander’s party. We also had about 37 men from 
my^ HQ and the Rajputs from Bridge III. Havildar 
Brijpal Singh took charge of this party and w’as a tower 
of strength throughout our long ordeal. 

Soon^ after we left Brigade HQ, I realised that 
it W'as pointless to make for Tsangdhar. I was sure 
that my Brigade major too would come to the same 
conclusion, as he too could witness the Tsangdhar Battle. 
I felt certain that he would make for Lumpu where we 
should have been in the first place. 



382 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The troops at Tsangdhar were fighting stubbornly 
and tenaciously. I was able to see their stout-hearted 
resistance, as from a grand-stand of an amphi theatre 
quite clearly. The Chinese were forced to reform twice 
before they were able to capture the dropping zone area. 
The battle then shifted to the Gunner positions. This 
troop of tough Sikhs belonged to the elite Parachute 
Brigade. They were called upon to fight a ground 
action and fought like seasoned infantrymen. I could 
see them across the valley separating Dhola from Tsang- 
dhar, battling away with the vastly superior Chinese 
force. My heart swelled with pride when I saw them 
open fire with their guns, over open sights, to deadly 
effect and break up at least four charges. It was only 
when they had run out of ammunition (only 400 odd 
rounds to start with) that the Chinese were able to 
launch a final bayonet charge and overrun their 
positions. 

The Gunners had given battle from mid-day to 
3 . 30 p.m. The sound of the last crack of a bullet came 
at 4 p.m., from a lone straggler ^vithdraiving from 
Tsangdhar. It was nothing more than a symbolic 
act of defiance. The Battle for Thagla Ridge was 
over. 

My only hope now was that the Punjabis and 
the Grenadiers had been able to make a stand on 
the Hathungla axis. I fervently prayed that the 
Chinese had not made any spectacular gains along this 
route. 

I was trying to fathom the Chinese intentions. 
As late as 19th October they were not supposed to 
“do anything big”. How big is big? Now I had 
to do my own reasoning, and draw my own conclusions. 
As a soldier, I realised that their minimum objective 
must be the Tsangdhar - Hathungla - Drokung Samba 
Bridge Line. This would give them their version of the 



CAPTIVE OF THE CHINESE ARMY 


383 


McMahon Line and neutralise our dropping zone, 
which was the life-line of the Brigade. Quite frankly 
I did not credit them with the intention of invading 
India. 

Ultimately I decided to make for Serkhim where 
we had a company of the Grenadiers. This was my only 
hope of remaining with the Brigade, an action demanded 
by the military code which requires officers to command 
to the last. To reach Serkhim we had to negotiate the 
massive, 18,500-foot Dhola Massif. Well, there was 
no alternative but to have a crack at this mountain, 
although I was not exactly' clad for a high-altitude 
expedition. I was wearing a pair of ordinary rubber 
gum boots, a coat parka and serge trousers which had 
seen better days. I was lucky to have a pair of 
leather gloves (a gift from my father), as the woollen 
mittens issued were quite useless as protection against 
the biting Himalayan cold. 

We climbed vertically and steadily till 4 p.m., 
when we had to stop due to the extreme cold and early 
darkness. The climb throughout was through thick 
rhododendron bushes. There is nothing more in- 
furiating and tiring than dense, twisted, impenetrable 
rhododendron bushes - except perhaps bamboo clumps. 
The chasms and crags demanded both respect and 
caution. One false step or slip, at those heights, and 
there would be no trace of the careless one who trod 
unwarily in the treacherous snows. 

We found a mini-cave (in modem jargon), at 
about 17,000 feet and decided to halt till daylight. 
I did not think that so many human beings would even 
fit into such a small space. But we did, huddling 
together for warmth. There was no question of trying 
to sleep. It was a case of not dying of the cold. The 
cold, at this height in October, in the Himalayas, is 
difficult to describe. 



384 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


When we finally adjusted ourselves, we remem- 
bered that none of us had had a morsel of food since 
the evening of the 19th, nearly 24 hours in terms of 
time, and an eternity in terms of experience. For me, 
this last supper had consisted of two chappattis and a 
handful of tinned peas. The more menacing thought 
was that there was no prospect of finding any sustenance 
till we reached the Grenadiers - if we ever did achieve 
this feat. We had no maps, as no unfortunate lance- 
naik had been sent to this place to draw a sketch map, 
and everyone relied on my knowledge of the main 
features and landmarks. 

Major Nijjar was not a fit man and was in great 
distress. He should never have been sent to the Namka 
Chu in the first place. I had to admire his guts and 
determination. He never once complained and per- 
severed despite his visible suffering. I was touched 
when he insisted on carrying my brief case. When 
I protested that this was not the time to adhere to the 
niceties of military protocol, he retorted that I was his 
Commander and he was damn well not going to allow 
me to carry anything, as long as he was around and 
alive. I had never met this officer until he reported to 
my HQ on or about the 1 7th of October. 

During one of the halts, a jawan came up to me 
diffidently and said, “Sahib, I have been watching you. 
You smoke a lot. I have a few cigarettes that I would 
like you to have. Please forgive me because they are 
cheap ones". Again, I can only say that I was deeply 
touched. Another jawan offered me his box of matches. 
These little gestures, in moments of great stress and 
danger made me feel proud of belonging to such a 
wonderful Army. Despite the harrowing time we had 
been through and the mortal dangers we had faced, the 
Officers and the men retained their natural and tradi- 
tional sense of discipline; their mutual regard and 
respect. 



CAPTIVE OF THE CHINESE ARMY 


385 


We left the cave at 3 .30 a.m., oil 21st October and 
headed for die formidable, 18,500-foot Dhola Peak. 
We climbed over treacherous rocks and deep crevices. 
Halts were necessary at frequent intervals as I could sec 
that the men were getting more and more listless -a 
dangerous sign in the mountains. Gradually I began 
to lose the odd man who could not keep up with the 
party. Speed was essential if we were to forestall the 
Chinese. 

By midday, Major Nijjar had difficulty in breathing: 
Captain Gupta who had contracted chill-blains could 
not walk: and Tal war’s stomach was giving him trouble 
in spite of the tablets that he kept swallowing to alle- 
viate the pains. It was ironic that the only officer who 
seemed to be free of any physical infirmity was the oldest 
member of the party. Soon it was evident that we 
would have to split into two parties if we were to have 
any hopes of reaching our destination in time. 

The summit of the Dhola feature was a mass of 
sprawling false crests. There were no clearly defined 
peaks and we kept plodding along in the optimistic 
hope of eventually reaching the Hathungla-Lumpu 
track, somewhere near Serkhim. 

To our relief, we hit the Lumpu-Karpola I track 
at about 1 . 30 p.m. My party was now down to a 
dozen men. My unofficial batman had got left be- 
hind. Despite his suffering he refused to jettison my 
transistor radio. After 8 days he proudly fetched up 
in the Brigade collecting point, saluted the Brigade 
Major and said: “Where is my Brigadier Sahib ? I 
want to give him his radio set”. It is now a cherished 
memento and a further reminder of the affection of 
the Indian soldier for his officer. Major Nijjar and 
Captain Gupta could not proceed any further that day. 
The lack of food and water added to their discomfort 
and increasing weakness. I told them to rest and 



386 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


follow us when they felt better. I left a few men to 
look after them. Captain Talwar volunteered to accom- 
pany me. He refused to stay behind despite his own 
ailment. He said that he was not going to allow his 
Commander to wander in the blue without an officer 
escort. This young man had an iron will. 

I left Major Nijjar and Gupta with mixed feelings. 
I was sorry for them as I thought that they may get 
captured, or even die in the cold or of starvation. The 
last laugh was on me. They moved along the Kar- 
pola I-Lumpu track, not realising that the Chinese were 
ahead of them. When they reached Lumpu they found 
the Chinese in occupation. After some incredibly 
narrow escapes they got through the Chinese lines and 
reached Bhutan. 

Talwar and I resumed our march, accompanied by 
seven stout volunteers led by Havildar Brijpal Singh, 
straight down a water-course which I reckoned would 
lead us to Serkhim. We slid on our bottoms in 
some places; and had to retrace our steps frequently 
to by-pass sheer cliffs. The water-course had to be 
crossed and re-crossed to negotiate bluffs. The boulders 
in this stream were moss-covered and slippery. One 
slip and the unfortunate one would have to be left 
behind to perish, as it was impossible to carry an 
injured person. Even if we had the will to save a 
comrade, none of us had the strength to hazard a long 
carry. We were weak and famished. X once slipped and 
fell about 30 feet and was surprised to find myself in 
one piece. I thanked my Dehra Dun Military Academy 
Physical Training Instructor for teaching me how to 
break a fall. 

It was soon dark and we could proceed no further. 
I reluctantly decided to halt where we were, on the 
mossy, cold, damp bank of the stream, under an over- 
hanging rock. I had tom my trousers while negotiating 



CAPTIVE OF THE CHINESE ARMY 387 

the thorny slopes and it was impossible to sit without 
discomfort. We lit a fire with wet wood for -warmth 
but it was difficult to keep it going. 

This was the second full day without food. We 
had found water but it was freezing cold and hard to 
swallow. We were all suffering from dehydration. We 
left this inhospitable shelter at 4 a.m. on the morning 
of 22nd October sore, frozen and tired, and continued 
the cross-country march towards Serkhim. Progress 
remained very slow. I was again assailed by doubts 
about my navigation and was certain that we had lost 
our way. The penalty for this was death. I did not 
know how much longer the men and I could go without 
any nourishment, as we had already been without food 
and without sleep for 60 hours. 

We kept descending steadily. At about 6 a.m. 
we halted for a rest and while we were sitting wc saw 
a long line of armed Chinese moving on the track below 
us. I watched mesmerised as X saw a seemingly endless 
column of infantry weapons. I counted at least one 
battalion passing, and for the first time I knew that the 
Chinese had launched an invasion and had crossed their 
version of the McMahon Line. Mr. Chou En Lai had 
made good his threat. I was sure, from my position, 
that they had crossed Hathungla Pass and were on the 
way to Serkhim and Lumpu. Their target now must be 
the dropping zone at Lumpu, the loss of which would 
fosftfc ms> vacate foe l&yam Jang CVm -forward 

of Towang. There was no other maintenance base. 
I knew that the Lumpu-Choksen ’defile was not held 
and Lumpu was defenceless. We were now in real 
trouble. I was worried about the fate of the Punjabis 
and the Grenadiers. Were they in the bag? There 
was now no chance of re-organising at Serkhim or 
Lumpu. The Grenadiers detachment (of less than 
one company) would be brushed aside by the Chinese 
Force that I had myself seen moving towards Lumpu. 



388 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


I immediately decided to head for Ziminthaung to 
reach Division HQ,. The last hope was that the Nyam 
Jang Ghu Force was holding out at the Drokung 
Samba Bridge which was a formidable obstacle that 
could not be easily by-passed. If the Bridge had been 
demolished then the Chinese could not resume their 
advance till a new bridge was built. This would be our 
last chance of slipping through the fast closing Chinese 
net. 

I did not know then that Divisional HQ, had 
already been abandoned on 21st October. The 
Chinese advance from Khenzemane on 20th October 
threatened the HQ, which was virtually undefended. 
The medical units there were called upon to man the 
perimeters. On the night of 20th October the Chinese 
were barely two miles from Ziminthaung. 

The Army Commander was expected at Divisional 
HQ, on 20th and 21st October to give on-the-spot 
decisions in the absence of Gen. Kaul regarding the 
withdrawal from the Nyam Jang Chu axis, but ie 
never arrived. Perhaps he had classified the Chinese 
attack as a “divisional” or “corps” battle! 

On 21st October GOC 4 Division decided to with- 
draw to Towang. One large helicopter . landed to 
evacuate the casulties that were at the Main Dressing 
Station - these were earlier casualties. Everyone from 
the General downwards left for Towang on foot. 1 e 
Indian Army did not have a spare helicopter for t ic 
Major-General who was still responsible for the Towang 
sector and who was the de-facto Corps Commander. 
The Towang Sector disintegrated while the Genera 
was on the move. Towang was abandoned and mos 
stragglers were forced to withdraw via Bhutan. 

The Chinese reached Lumpu on the 21st ° n 
heels of the departing HQ,. On the Nyam Jang C , 1 ‘ 
they had made significant gains and were well on tnei 



CAPTIVE OF THE CHINESE ARMY 


389 


way to Lumpu via Drokung Samba Bridge of 1959 
fame. This time there was no pushing, prodding and 
protest notes. The world of words had come to an 
end. Tliis time it was an invasion. The Indian flag 
had been pulled down. It could be re-hoisted only by 
an act of force or when Mr. Ghou-en Lai consented 
and permitted us to do so! 

The Chinese raced to the Brahmaputra Valley 
which they reached on 20th November. 

* * # 

I estimated our observation point to be at a height 
of 10,000 feet; a drop of 8,000 feet from Dhola Pass. 
It was absolutely impossible to attempt the climb back, 
in our state of near starvation and exhaustion. Besides 
there was no point in doing this as the Chinese had 
control of the Karpola I-Lumpu track. There was only 
one course open, and that was to make for the Nyam 
Jang Chu Valley. 

We started walking after the tail of the Chinese 
column had passed, and soon reached the track. For 
a moment I allowed myself the indulgence of con- 
gratulating myself on my navigational skill. The years 
as the Intelligence Officer of 5 Baluch Regiment (now 
in the Pakistan Army) had seen us through — so far. 
We hit the Hathungla-Serkhim track barely half a mile 
from Serkhim, as I found out later when walking 
back with the Chinese, as a prisoner. 

After crossing the track we made a dash for the 
Nyam Jang Chu Valley, straight down a steep hill-side. 
Immediately we did this we found ourselves in the 
middle of a thick primary jungle. We slid and slithered 
for a while till we hit a precipice. Navigation was now 
impossible as we could not see any features or land- 
marks. I had no option but to retrace my steps and 
try all over again from the track we had left. We 
climbed through the thick jungle hoping that we would 
not get lost. I directed myself more by instinct than 
judgement. 



CAPTIVE OF THE CHINESE ARMY 


391 


dangers; and made light of starvation, intense cold, 
lack of sleep and super-human exertions at heights 
where it is difficult to even breathe under normal con- 
ditions. These physical hardships were accompanied 
by mental depression, humiliation and anger at the 
culprits, mingled with sorrow for all those who gave 
their lives. 

The Indian Army had some of the toughest, bravest 
men in the world. In all humility I can say that few 
armies in the world would have endured the incredible 
hardships and shown the steadfastness of the jawan 
during the days of September-October 1962. Given the 
right leadership and equipment he is more than a 
match for anyone who casts covetous eyes on our soil. 
Why then did we not harness these great qualities 
in the sendee of India instead of dissipating them on a 
futile show of force? 

The death struggle of 7 Infantry Brigade is a tale 
of indescribable suffering. It was marked by despair 
and justifiable bitterness of the men who had been 
deceived in their trust. And yet they displayed stead- 
fastness in the face or an undeserved but inexorable fate. 
They came to terms with the cruelty of their lot only 
because of their sterling heritage. 

The sufferings of the men who were able to escape 
death or evade capture will always haunt those who 
were responsible for their predicament. Many died 
from exposure to the severe cold and a large number 
from pitiless hunger. In those days the Indian Army 
did not even have an emergency ration when the 
children of the affluent could walk into any confectionery 
shop and buy chocolates. All of us must accept the 
guilt for this outrageous state of affairs. 

Innumerable dead bodies could not be identified 
by the Ciuncse as many of our men did not have 
‘identity discs’ (dog-tags) ! 



392 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Our mistakes and shortcomings must now be 
recorded so that in future we do not blunder into a 
Himalayan military operation and create for ourselves 
the conditions for inevitable disaster and humiliation. 
From 8th September to 20th October 1962, the mistakes 
were wholly and solely due to faulty Higher Direction 
of War. Government “decided in haste and ignorance 
and repented at leisure and in desolation”. 

I do sincerely believe that there is no call for 
despair and despondency. The Army is good and the 
reverses at Thagla do not call for any sweeping con- 
demnation of the officers and men, who behaved in the 
highest traditions of the Indian Army. Unfortunately 
we had adopted some strange and inexcusable notions 
on the higher direction of war and based our National 
Aims on invalid premises. 

By their self-less immolation the defenders of the 
Namka Chu converted this remote Valley into a grim 
reminder to the Indian People of their duties and res- 
ponsibilities as a sovereign Nation. We learnt that 
nations do not exercise power and influence, or have 
real independence unless they have the force to defend 
their rights. The Battle in the desolate Thagla Ridge 
area was the cremation ground for the triple tragedies 
of negligence, credulity, and the national disinterestedness 
in defence matters. We learnt that war is an act of 
force and not a verbal debate: it is a test of skill as 
well as a test of fortitude. We learnt that bravery alone 
is not enough. We learnt that the Politician, the Civil 
Servant and the military High Command must adhere 
to the accepted Principles of War and exercise circums- 
pection and method. We leamt that we cannot leave 

our defence in the hands of a few. 

For the Indian Army, particularly for the jawan, 
it was a tribute to his endurance and tenacity. 
Looking back on events I marvel at the valour, Royalty 
and simplicity of the Indian Sepoy. He had implicit 
faith in his leaders and followed them without hesitation 



CAPTIVE OF THE CHINESE ARMY 


393 


or doubt. Throughout he lived on hard scales and 
fought with pouch ammunition. He never flinched 
when ordered to Thagla, nor later when the Chinese 
were preparing for their assault. 

It is a tragedy that the impeccable behaviour of 
these men has not received due recognition. They are 
entitled to praise. Above all, we have denied them the 
homage that is their due, for largely by their sacrifice 
and debacle was wrought the awareness of our weak- 
nesses and our defence problems. 

I hope that this book which is my tribute to them 
will partially redress the wrong done them. 



Part VI 

The Reason Why 



Chapter XXVI 


Faulty Higher Direction of War 

The story of the events that culminated in the Thagla 
Battle makes it amply clear that the main faults lay in 
the sphere of what is known as the Higher Direction of 
war — a term which embraces the entire process of 
the formulation of the National Policy, and the readi- 
ness of the Nation and Armed Forces for war. 

In his statement on the NEFA Enquiry, Air. Chavan 
told the Lok Sabha, on 2nd September 1963: “This 
brings me to the next point which is called the Higher 
Direction of A Var /Operations. Even the largest and 
best equipped armies need to be given proper policy 
guidance and major directives by the Government, whose 
instrument it is. These must bear a reasonable relation 
to the size of the Army and state of its equipment from 
time to time. An increase in the size or improving 
the equipment of the Army costs not only money but 
also needs time”. This is a courageous but singularly 
revealing admission by Mr. Menon’s successor, about 
the Government’s failure to issue proper policy guidance 
and major directives i.e. Government failed to exercise 
what is known as ‘Civil Supremacy’. 

Lt.-General P. S. Bhagat, VC, whom I have known 
for many^ years, was kind enough to autograph my 
copy of his book Forging The Shield. He wrote, “John, 
I know you have suffered for want of proper Higher 
Direction of War. May this book, though inade- 
quately, give a line of thought. May no one ever be 
placed in the predicament you were in, in 1962 . . . 
Prem Bhagat”. General Bhagat was a member of the 
two-man Enquiry Board held to study the causes of 
the NEFA Reverses. Despite the obvious handicaps 
under which this Board had to carry out its invest!- 



398 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


gations, it showed remarkable percipiencc in arriving 
at the basic causes of the setbacks in the short war with 
China in 1962. I shall be quoting extensively from the 
report of this team. 

There is no gainsaying the fact that there was 
something amiss in the manner and methods we had 
adopted to arrive at the National Aims and imple- 
ment them in peace and war. On paper we had 
a sound enough system which was largely copied from 
the British. Unfortunately, the system was not allowed 
to function in the recognised way. Even during the 
years preceding the Chinese Aggression, the enunciation 
of the National Policy had become the prerogative of 
a few people, whose views prevailed even when there 
was unmistakable evidence that the Policy was faulty. 
There was no harmonious fusion of civil and military 
thinking. The politician, soldier and civil servant had 
not evolved a smooth working arrangement whereby 
each could have his say, and each could get a respectful 
hearing. 

The reasons are partly historical and pardy due 
to the strong personalities of Mr. Nehru and Mr. Menon. 
India got off to a bad start in 1947. From the very 
outset there was a lack of rapport between the politician 
and the Service Officer. Indian Independence had 
been achieved peacefully and constitutionally, without 
a war of independence and without the need of a 
military force, as in the case of Algeria and Indonesia^- 


FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 399 

On the other hand, the soldier and civil servant 
had reached his specialised eminence in comparative 
obscurity. On 15th August 1947 the British Govern- 
ment transferred power to the Indian and Pakistani 
peoples in a peaceful, orderly and cordial manner 
bequeathing all British Indian institutions, organisations 
and Sendees to the new Indian and Pakistani Govern- 
ments. The Indian Freedom fighters, as the Congress- 
men fondly called themselves, assumed the highest 
posts in a sovereign State. The Civil Service and the 
Indian Armed Forces were rapidly Tndianised’ and on 
15th January 1949 the last British Gommander-in- 
Chief was replaced by the first Indian, General K. M. 
Cariappa. Promotions were rapid and relatively in- 
experienced men assumed the liighest posts in all 
spheres of activity. Few Indian Officers had any 
experience of command or staff work at the highest 
level; and in the early days we had the spectacle of 
senior officers playing musical chairs to give an illusion 
of varied experience and a sound military background. 
The Civil Servant was equally new to defence work in 
a sovereign country. The average politician had little 
knowledge of administration at the national level; and 
barring a few notable exceptions, little understanding 
of international affairs, which soon became the special 
domain of Mr. Nehru. 

# The British Indian Army had been kept aloof from 
politics and had been raised primarily to fulfil an 
Imperial role. Recruitment to both officer ranks and 
the soldiery was restricted to a few so-called martial 
classes, who were rewarded handsomely for their sendees 
to the British Raj. Officers were carefully screened for 
their loyalty; and were forced to refrain from showing 
any interest, much less sympathy, for the freedom 
struggle lest they incurred the displeasure of their 
superiors and jeopardised their prospects in the Army. 
Some, of course, were beneficiaries under the British 
connection and had a vested interest in maintaining it. 
Most of the Officers had imbibed Western ideas, culture. 



400 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


dress and social habits, further widening the gap between 
them and the average politician. 

The Indian Independence movement was conceived 
and led by the middle-class intelligentsia, spearheaded 
by laivyers and other professional men, and financed by 
merchants. Most of them were drawn from the ranks 
of those who did not directly benefit from the British 
presence in India. They made immense sacrifices in 
the national interest. Many suffered financial loss 
and some were subjected to physical beatings and long 
periods of incarceration in British jails. In 1930, the 
Congress Working Committee was as inspired, patriotic 
and talented a group of men as in any liberation move- 
ment in history. Each man was a giant in his own 
way; and the top leaders will assuredly find a per- 
manent place in the history of modem India. 

It was sad but true that when India attained 
Independence, there was no meeting ground or contact 
between the Politician, the Civil Servant and the 
Soldier - there was in fact more than a little distrust. 
The Congressman claimed a monopoly on patriotism 
and “Indianness” - a dangerous assumption as the 
technical and professional men who had served the 
British Regime could not be summarily displaced. 
Instead of getting together to thrash out a modus vivendt , 
a marriage of convenience was contracted. 

This compromise soon affected the civil servant 
who now had to please his new political bosses, as well 
as to safeguard his exaggerated position in the Indian 
administrative set-up. Friction between the civil 
servant and the soldier was a natural and inevitable 
outcome. Rapid promotions, immaturity and a fal se 
sense of dignity further contributed to the incipient 
disharmony. There was a good deal of wrangling 
about who was senior, the ‘equation* between civil ranks 
vis-a-vis Arm)' ranks, and who should go to see whom m 
official matters; there were petty squabbles about who 
was entitled to an office carpet and air:conditioners. 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 


401 


Many are the stories which I can recount about the 
infantile behaviour of officials who should have known 
better. The culprits came from all categories of official- 
dom, but I shall refrain from quoting instances that 
arc within my knowledge and which took place in my 
time at Army HQ., from 1954 to 1959. The stories are 
unworthy of mature persons. 

The Order of Precedence was frequently changed 
and each time the Army General was down-graded. 
On the surface these might appear to be petty pin- 
pricks and trivial; but in fact they were early warnings 
of a deep and latent malaise. We have seen how, in 
1962, Generals had lost their authority to resist improper 
orders or to influence the course of events. We have 
seen how so serious an order as the one to evict the 
Chinese was conveyed to the Chief of Army Staff by a 
mere Joint Secretary. Wc have seen how the advice 
of the General Staff to re-equip and reorganise the 
Army was summarily brushed aside by ministers, civil 
servants and financial experts without any formal protest 
from the military authorities. 

Our political philosophies contributed to the 
lackadaisical attitude to defence matters. We did not 
fear war. Wc did not seek war to settle any of our 
problems. Wc believed that our non-aligned policy 
and our inflated international prestige would ensure 
us friends in a crisis. The Indian Government would 
gladly have disbanded the Army in. 1949/50 if the 
Kashmir problem had been solved. 

The attainment of Independence was followed by 
an intense desire to eradicate poverty and provide the 
people with the minimum amenities in the way of 
medical sendees, education, housing, clothing and food. 
We gave priority to development, and launched the 
First Five-Year Plan as early as 1950. 

As the first and most important colonial country to 
be liberated after World War II, we were the vanguard 
for the independence movements all over the Asian and 



402 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


African Continents. We became engrossed and in- 
volved in the affairs oi the world and soon attained an 
honoured place in the World Community. Unfortu- 
nately, in the process we tended to neglect our own 
domestic problems. 

Given the background of our Independence move- 
ment, the lack of fear of war, the priority allotted to 
development and the preoccupation with world affairs, 
it was inevitable that there could be no sense of urgency 
in keeping the Armed Forces in good shape and ready 
for War, if thrust upon us. Everybody could delay, 
obstruct and theorise over defence issues, on every con- 
ceivable count and with impunity. 

On paper our procedures for the Higher Direction 
of War followed logically from the parliamentary demo- 
cratic system which we had given ourselves in the 1950 
Constitution. The Government of India, formed by 
the majority party of the elected Legislature is respon- 
sible for all aspects of the Higher Direction of War, 
and no other body can usurp or dilute this function. 
This is the quintessence of “Civil Supremacy” or “civil 
control” of the Armed Forces. Government functions 
through the Cabinet, which is thus supreme. The 
Cabinet is assisted by the Ministry of Defence and the 
Service Chiefs, both in formulating the National Policy 
and when prosecuting war. The Cabinet is vested 
with unfettered political and military authority, and 
is in fact the only level at which the overall political 
and military considerations of the National Aims 
converge. 

The Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) is a 
handy working group of the Cabinet which is responsible 
for handling the Nation’s defence problems both m peace 
and war, and consists of the key Cabinet members viz. 
the Prime Minister and the Foreign, Home, Finance and 
Defence Ministers. Other ministers are co-opted when- 
ever their special subjects are under consideration. 
Service Ghieis and Civil Servants are in attendance. 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 403 

The DCG is required to assess the military threat 
to the Nation and decide on how the threat is to be 
met; whether by raising the necessary defence forces or 
seeking allies, or a combination of the two. Such a 
decision must be based on an objective, realistic and 
hard-headed appraisal of all the politico-military factors. 
There is no room for wishful thinking and extravagant 
hopes. In arriving at a sound National Aim, it is 
necessary to pose the following questions, from time to 
time, and deduce replies with the impersonality of a 
computer: 

(a) What are the Nation’s fundamental interests 
now and for the foreseeable future? Forward 
planning of foreign policy must be closely 
related to the long term military consequences. 
There is little wisdom in pretending to go-it- 
alone and then screaming for help in a 
crisis. 

(£) What countries can effect our interests by 
economic or military means? 

(c) Which countries have identical interests and 
can be relied upon to help? 

{d) Which, countries can oppose us and what is 
the extent of the threat? 

(?) If more than one country can become hostile, 
can we take them on simultaneously? If not, 
what needs to be done to isolate one while 
dealing with the others? 

(/) How long can we sustain hostilities single- 
handed? 

(g) How much money can be diverted to defence 
without hurting the economy of the Nation? 

The National Aims must be tailored to the capacity 
of the Armed Forces and the resources of the country. 
Conversely, the required forces must be raised and 
maintained, if diplomatic means are considered to be 
uncertain or inadequate to sustain our fundamental 



404 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


interests. No nation can afford to be deflected, by ex- 
traneous factors, from its paramount duty to defend itself. 

Having assessed the threat, the DCG must give 
clear and feasible instructions to the Armed Forces to 
meet the anticipated threat, and must allot the necessary 
funds in time for the money to be converted into the 
required battle-field units. It is for the experts at 
Sendee HQs to assess this requirement and they must 
not be subjected to a cross-examination by amateur 
civilians. There is no question of making every avail- 
able rupee go as far as possible as Mcnon has since 
averred. All the rupees must be found or the National 
Policy recast. Sudden political imperatives cannot be 
allowed to spark off a war for which there has been 
no preparation. The Army was first sent to man the 
borders in 1959/60 without the basic requirements for 
mountain warfare. Later we embarked on a “limited 
programme to make up a few of our deficiencies; while 
our political postures were not enforceable by arms. 
Again in 1962, the Army was bludgeoned into attempt- 
ing the impossible task of evicting the Chinese although 
we did not have the troops, fire power or other 
minimum resources. 

From 1947 to 1962, the DCC was called upon to ■ 
take decisions on at least the following occasions Le- 
tt) when the Kashmir issue was not setUed at thcUJN 
during the period 1949 to 1954; (ii) when the Chinese 
annexed Tibet in 1950 and we faced a long border 
with a powerful neighbour; (Hi) when the United States 
and Pakistan signed the Mutual Aid Pact which gave 
Pakistan substantial arms during 1954 to 1957; (tv) whep 
the Chinese began nibbling at our territory in Lad ax i 
and built their highway through our Aksai Chin 
Plateau; ( v ) when the Dalai Lama was given asylum 
after he had fled from Lhasa in 1959; (ri) and lastly m 
1960 after the failure of the talks between officials o 
India and China, which were held in the wake oi t e 
three major border clashes in 1959. 



FAULTY .HIGHER DIRECTION .OF WAR 


405 


It is not unfair to say that the . DCG never 
approached the serious matter of defending ourselves, 
or of solving the political issues which could lead to 
war, with the determination and thoroughness de- 
manded. Despite being bounded by two hostile neigh- 
bours, the role of the Army was laid down (by the DCC) 
as : “To be prepared to defend ourselves against a second 
class power”. Financial appropriations were restricted 
to this modest aim. When the Pakistani threat agitated 
the public and military planners in 1956, Government 
reluctantly permitted some inescapable reorganisations 
and a few new raisings to meet the challenge of Pakistan’s 
American aided mobile corps - and even so there was 
to be no arms race. In 1961, when the Chinese threat 
was no longer a hypothetical question, but merely a 
matter of time, Government embarked on a “limited” 
programme for improving our defences. At this time, 
Mr. Nehru is quoted as saying that any additional 
defence expenditure would cause a major economic 
setback. He thought that we should rely on indigenous 
production rather than “waste” valuable foreign ex- 
change on purchases from abroad. There can be litde 
purposeful military planning if the DCG wavers and 
displays a split personality over the issue of defence 
expenditure. 

The nature of the twin Chinese and Pakistani 
threats were never really analysed in a hard-headed 
manner. To comfort ourselves and lend respectability 
to our half-hearted actions t we created imaginary 
problems for our potential enemies. It is said that 
Mr. Nehru told Mr. B. K. Nehru and Gen. Kaul that, 
apart from creating tension, neither China nor Pakistan 
was in a position to provoke a war with us as they had 
their own problems. At another time, Mr. Nehru is 
quoted as saying that the Chinese were not really 
strong, as they had their own troubles and internal 
disorders due to food shortages and an unpopular 
dictatorial regime. He thought that they faced a 
revolt in Tibet and the morale of the Chinese People 



406 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


and the Chinese Armed Forces was cracking up; and 
if we dealt with them firmly we should get the better 
of them. This particular view was relayed to the Army 
by Gen. Kaul during the Infantry Commanders’ Con- 
ference in 1962. 

On yet another occasion when asked for money to 
buy the minimum requirements of the Army, Nehru is 
reported to have held the view that there would be no 
war with China, and all the scare the Army High 
Command were making was a military miscalculation. 
He thought that the military was over-stressing the 
point and putting up extravagant demands which were 
not quite necessary. This view was belied when we 
presented our shopping list to the Anglo-American 
Military Missions which flew to our rescue after the 
Chinese invasion. The American Time Magazine put 
it aptly. The paper wrote: “The Indian Army needs 
almost everything except courage”. 

Gen. Kaul has summed up the Government’s 
approach to policy-making neatly. He told a Press 
Conference at Delhi on 3rd April 1967: “The Army 
was never given any charter or directives from the 
Civil Administration. The Army had never been asked 
to prepare itself against any threat from China. In 
fact our leaders and civil servants and service officials 
did not have the impression that there was a possibility 
of war with China”. He' added : “The fact was that 
due attention had not been paid to defence matters 
until 1962. There was no policy-making body for 
defence matters at the highest level. Decisions were 
taken from day to day”. ( Times of India correspondent 

in a despatch from New Delhi dated 3rd April 1967). 
These words from a former Chief of the General Stan 
reveal a very strange state of affairs. What had become 
of the DCG? 

Apart from the domination of Mr. Nehru’s per- 
sonality, the DCG was rendered more ineffective due to 
irreconcilable differences within the Cabinet. It is welt 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 


407 


known that the Indian Cabinet of the Congress Party 
contained diverse elements, and was riven with personal 
and ideological contradictions. The Indian Cabinet was 
not designed to harness the best talent, but to accom- 
modate aspirants from the various regions of the 
country; to fit-in the various political hues and shades; 
and to recognise the seniority of the leading members 
of this huge, amorphous Party. 

Everybody knows of the clash between Mr. Desai 
the Finance Minister and Mr. Menon the Defence 
Minister -a clash which is alleged to have resulted in 
the Armed Forces being starved of urgently needed 
funds, particularly foreign exchange, for vital military 
equipment. This state of affairs, if true, is inexpli- 
cable if the DCC had functioned in a constitutional 
manner. 

If the DCC had laid down the National Aims, then 
both these august gentlemen were party to the deli- 
berations and the decisions taken, as the Indian Cabinet 
works on the basis of “collective” responsibility. The 
financial implications of the National Aim would have 
figured prominently in the discussions which preceded 
the decision. It is the very essence of high level plan- 
ning that a judicious balance be struck between the 
minimum requirements of defence and the maximum 
that can be spared without retarding the development 
of the Nation (the residual requirements being secured 
by arranging allies). No country can afford to think 
in terms of war and be too proud to accept help; and 
be too poor to find its own resources. To approach 
the life and death matter of national defence in any 
other way is to indulge in pipe-dreams. The allotment 
of inadequate or “available” funds is wasteful as this does 
not provide security and yet handicaps development. 
A poor country like India cannot live in a perpetual 
state of semi-readiness for war. 

If the above theses arc accepted, as they must be, 
then the financial implications of the National Policy 



408 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


arise naturally, and the Finance Minister (and Iris 
experts) cannot exercise any further, independent judge- 
ment of what is to be bought, from what source and 
-with what currency. If a disagreement had arisen, 
then the Prime Minister was duty bound to intervene 
and adjudicate; either the Finance or Defence Ministers 
moving the DGG to reconvene to discuss the details 
arising out of the basic policy decision. To accept a 
deadlock which affects die honour of the Nation is 
unacceptable. 

The inescapable deduction is that one of three 
things happened : (a) the Government did not have a 
clear National Policy; or (b) the DCG did not keep a 
watching brief on defence preparations which it had 
decreed in the first place; or (r) Mr. Nehru avoided the 
unpleasant chore of intervening between two senior 
ministers - especially as they were the leading spokes- 
men of the so-called Rightist and Leftist Groups. Some 
unkind commentators have suggested that Mr. Nehru 
allowed his senior colleagues to be at loggerheads to 
consolidate his own position and power as well as to 
leave the race for the succession to his seat open. Both 
Menon and Desai were front rank aspirants for the 
Prime Ministerial gaddi, after Mr. Nehru. 

The DCG had never really functioned from the 
very earliest days after we became a free, sovereign 
nation. Mr. Nehru became the sole arbiter of the 
National Policy, and his views and ideas became 
dominant. The rest of the country was content to 
let the matter rest at that; and we were content to 
allow Mr. Nehru to play the vital defence problem by 
ear”, intuition and instinct. The DCC was never the 
free forum for formulating the National Policy that it 
was designed to be. All failure in war is directly 
attributable to this key body in the Indian constitutional 
set-up, and every member from 1947 onwards must 
share responsibility, with the Prime Minister for the 
disasters of 1962. When the Chinese defeated us, we 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 409 

descended on Mr. Nehru, in the manner of crows who 
proceed to cannibalise a dead comrade, when we were 
all to blame. People get the Government they deserve 
and the foreign policy they desire. It is preposterous 
to claim that Mr. Nehru forced any views on the 
Nation. All that can be said is that he succumbed 
to adulation and resented advice which was contrary 
to his views; but this could have been put right by a 
knowledgeable public, an alert Press and a forceful 
Lok Sabha headed by a fearless and dedicated 
Cabinet. 

Perhaps the most tragic manifestation of the 
impotence of the DCC was shown during September 
1962, when it was virtually defunct as the Prime 
Minister, the Finance Minister and the Defence Minister 
were mostly abroad at crucial stages of the Sino-Indian 
confrontation. National decisions were formulated under 
pressure of events, on a day-to-day basis. Orders were 
being obtained by trans-Atlantic cables; and minor 
functionaries were gaily relaying war orders to the 
Chief of Army Staff. 

The DCC of 1962 was overhauled after the de- 
bacles in NEFA when Mr. Mcnon was removed and 
Mr. Desai was Kamaraj-ed (to remove dissidents and 
opponents as well as to restore the balance between the 
Right and Left Wings of the Congress). The Prime 
Minister carried, on as if he had been let down by 
erring subordinates, and he himself had nothing to do 
■ynlSi the military shambles in which the country found 
itself. It is amazing that everyone was satisfied that 
an enquiry was being held into “the causes of the NEFA 
Reverses” under the authority of the Nehru Govern- 
ment which was itself primarily responsible for the 
politico-military unreadiness of the Army and the 
Nation. To get down to the root-causes, we needed a 
Presidential Enquiry which would have spared no one, 
and made every one liable to answer for his conduct 
of national affairs from 1947 onwards. 



410 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The Ministry of Defence 

The Ministry of Defence is the main organisation 
at the command of the Defence Minister to fulfil his 
responsibilities as the political head of the Armed 
Forces, and ensure that they are capable of implementing 
the directives of the DCC. Without a firm hand on 
the rein of National Policy, and without clear-cut 
instructions, the Ministry could not be the effective 
organ that was needed to handle our perennial defence 
problems. The officials too were forced to react on a 
day-to-day basis, as best as they could. 

The Ministry of Defence grew from humble begin- 
nings in 1947 to a giant organisation in 1962. With 
Independence, a political head took over the Services 
and real authority passed to the new Defence Ministry. 
Prior to 1947, the Commander-in-Chief India was the 
‘Number Two’ after the Viceroy, and Head of all 
three Services. As a member of the Viceroy’s Executive 
Council, he was de-facto and de-jure Defence. Minister 
and exercised Governmental powers, in addition to his 
powers as the C-in-C. These powers would henceforth 
be shared between the Indian Defence Minister and 
the Chiefs of the three Services. 

The civil servants of the erstwhile Defence De- 
partment had gained experience mainly in non- 
operational matters. The Indian Army was part of 
the Imperial Forces and major policy decisions were 
taken in Whitehall and the War Office. Military 
equipment was entirely British and the Indian Defence 
Department was only required to place the necessary 
indents, and process the necessary financial appro- 
priations. They were also concerned with the Law 
and Order situation in India - a vital matter for the 
colonial rulers. There were no research cells and only 
a rudimentary ordnance establishment, mainly for 
small arms. There was little need for liaison with the 
other Ministries for procuring the many items required 
for the Services, both in peace and war. Above all, 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 


411 


the primary interest in maintaining the brightest jewel 
of the British Empire, and the unfettered authority of 
the Viceroy obviated all personal or departmental 
jealousies, rivalries or friction. The aim for all Britishers 
was very clear. 

Whereas other Government departments were able 
to carry on from where the British had left, there was 
an unavoidable need for a major overhaul of the 
Defence Ministry, conceived and implemented by a 
dynamic team of civil servants and Sendee Officers, 
led by an imaginative and knowledgeable defence 
minister. It is a matter of regret that this vital portfolio 
was never given the ministerial talent required till 
Mr. Menon was appointed in 1957. He too failed, but 
for his failures we have to look for reasons other than 
his undoubted brilliance. 

The first critical decision required of India’s new 
rulers was with regard to the organisation of the 
Defence Ministry'. There were only two options. The 
first was to create an entirely separate ministry of 
civilian officials and place the three Services under this 
organisation. The Services HQs then became cells of 
this ministry and could exercise no Government 
authority\ The second was to create an integrated 
set-up of both civil and military officials on the lines 
of the British War Office in London. In either case, 
the ultimate responsibility rests with the Defence 
Minister. 1 

In 1947 we opted for the full-fledged civilian 
ministry for personal and political reasons. The proli- 
feration of sections and rapid expansion produced a 
crop of promotions. Parkinson had a field day' - in the 
first years of our Independence. Civil officers with a 
few years of service found themselves at par with 
military officers with twice their seniority; office super- 
intendents of the British era found themselves sud- 
denly equated with majors. A good time was had 
by all. 



412 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Changes and transfers ■were frequent as the Indian 
Civil Service brains evolved schemes to expand and 
multiply into a plethora of ministries and directorates. 
Congress ministers, still recovering from the glamour 
of their new positions of power and privilege were not 
able to provide any purposeful political leadership; it 
would have been unfair to expect them to master the 
intricacies of the Government machine in a few months. 

The Ministry of Defence gradually duplicated 
Army HQ,: started their own filing system. Duplicate 
cells cropped up to “scrutinise” the correctness and 
validity of the Army’s proposals and recommendations. 
The expansion was unplanned, often redundant and 
mostly induced by self-generated work. The Indian’s 
love of power without responsibility was given full rein. 

The Ministry eventually became a super military 
HQ, and their “approval” to everytliing except the 
times for reveille and retreat was required. They took 
“decisions” or accorded “sanction” on every conceivable 
occasion. The members of the renowned Indian Civil 
Sendee (ICS), who headed the early Ministry saw 
nothing incongruous in this system. They, and their 
more humble successors of the Indian Administrative 
Service, were firmly convinced of their omniscience. 
They had a deeply ingrained belief that every sphere 
of Indian activity was merely a matter of good adminis- 
tration - and administration was their special forte. 
Soldiers, engineers, irrigation experts etc. were mere 
advisers to the administrator. ICS arrogance was a 
material factor in the sequence of events that found 
India unprepared for war in 1962. 

Both the politician and the civil servant found _ it 
convenient to keep the soldier in his place, and devise 
a system whereby the Army was always asking, begging, 
pleading and justifying. I know that over the years 
this method wore down the Arm y, and many officers 
were content to let cases drop through sheer exhaustion. 
The role of perpetual appellant can be very frustrating. 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 413 

The standard modus operandi was somewhat as 
follows. After endless notings, futile correspondence 
and some pathetic informal pleading, the Ministry 
would “accept” a proposal, then “sponsor” the “ease” 
with Finance. The Ministry of Defence thus had all 
the executive authority but no responsibility. Everybody 
magnanimously promised to do his best as if he was a 
disinterested and benign spectator of events, instead of 
acting as a member of a key link in the system which 
was created to ensure India’s security. The Indian 
People thought that the Military Establishment had a 
free hand in the direction or military affairs, as it would 
never have occurred to anyone that professional advice 
would have to run the gauntlet of civilian scrutiny. It 
is a fact that promotions, postings in the higher ranks, 
policy of introduction of new weapons, equipment, 
conditions of service, future plans and operations, all 
required “acceptance” by the Ministry. In 1962, few 
responsible civil officials were brought to book, as they 
had already passed to the oblivion that they should have 
been consigned to in the first place. The Indian Public 
believed that the Army was primarily responsible for 
the military disasters of 1962; and this belief was 
confirmed when the NEFA Enquiry confined itself 
largely to the “military causes” of the defeats, pre- 
sumably in pursuance of the charter given to the 
members. The accused wrote their own charge-sheets. 

The civil service have a vital role to play, not as 
benevolent intermediaries or super mifttary HQ, hut 
alongside the military experts. They can never be 
substitutes for military experts who spend a life-time 
studying the subjects that civilians cannot learn in a 
short “spell” in the Ministry' of Defence on their way 
to bigger things in some other Ministry e.g. Housing 
or Food. 

Another major disadvantage of our present system 
is that the Minister often gets unbalanced views put 
up to him for a final decision. The Ministry, although 



414 


IEDIALAYAN BLUNDER 


a separate and superior HQ,, does not bear any executive 
responsibility. The Minister is often influenced by 
civil officials whom he meets frequently and who soon 
gain his confidence. Let us say that the Chiefr of Staff 
put up a proposal to Government. This proposal 
represents the considered views of the three senior-most 
advisers to Government on Service matters. These 
proposals are then “examined” by the Ministry, perhaps 
at the level of a Joint Secretary. The latter is entitled 
to “note” to the Secretary and through him to the 
Minister. The note is recorded on a Ministry of 
Defence file, which is never seen by any Service Officer. 
I know of one case where a relatively junior civil servant 
had the audacity and impertinence to start his note by 
saying that, “I do not entirely agree with the proposals 
of the Chiefs of Staff”, and then went on to suggest a 
modification of the proposal. The Minister agreed with 
the civil servant, but the Chiefs were never told why the 
Minister’s final orders differed from their original 
recommendation. They never saw the relevant file 
to find out who was the genius who knew better than 
them. 

In the early years of our Independence it may 
have been necessary to quarantine the Defence Minister 
from the Services. The first Ministers had no military 
knowledge and may have required someone to help 
them understand the matters on which they were 
suddenly called upon to give decisions, without exposing 
their ignorance. It is time that the political head of 
the Defence Ministry dealt more intimately with the 
Sendees, who are in the final analysis responsible for 
the execution of our war plans. This is even more 
necessary because we are living in a perpetual state of 
war readiness. We have had 20 years to earmark and 
train political talent for expert appointments. All 
advanced democracies train their bright junior legis- 
lators to hold highly technical cabinet pose. It should 
no longer be necessary to “find” someone for defence. 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 415 

There is no longer any justification for super- 
imposing a senior HQ, composed of civilians, or asking 
the civilian to be an intermediary on behalf of the 
Defence Forces. We have to get together and further 
the National Aim by carrying out the duties that we 
have been trained for, and which we understand. 
Unless this is done, we shall go on passing the buck. 

Parallel to, but not under the Ministry of Defence, 
is the Ministry of Defence (Finance). This is a cell 
from the Finance Ministry and is headed by the Finan- 
cial Adviser who holds a rank “equivalent to” an army 
general. This cell has to serve two masters. It has to 
spend to satisfy Defence, and exercise parsimony to 
please Finance. This is a highly unsatisfactory state 
of affairs and was partly responsible for the delays in 
arming and equipping the Forces in 1962. If we are 
to believe that Mr. Desai and Mr. Menon were involved 
in a personal feud, then I pity the finance officials, 
and commiserate with them in the plight in which they 
found themselves. No one can function efficiently in 
the midst of contradictions. 

Gen. Kaul was in an excellent position to appre- 
ciate the damage done to our preparedness by the 
amazing goings-on in the corridors of the Ministry of 
Defence, when the Chinese were sitting inside our 
territory, and it was our openly declared policy that we 
would fight to defend our borders - indeed that we shall 
open up more posts, and eventually force the Chinese 
to vacate their intrusions. 

He writes: “The Finance Ministry at various 
levels — with rare exceptions - split hairs over our urgent 
proposals and sanctioned only a fraction of what we 
had put up for approval. They indulged in academic 
and infructuous arguments in prolonged inconclusive 
meetings and notings on files. They carried out un- 
realistic scrutiny of our cases, raising many fresh points 
each time the file went backwards and forwards. This 
caused inordinate delays (effecting the defences of our 



416 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


country). Without being experts, these financial pundits 
dabbled in technical matters and harped on the financial 
angle. The operational angle appeared to them the 
least important of all considerations. Shortage of 
foreign exchange was used as an argument for not 
sanctioning the import of essential equipment. Many 
cases were rejected even when no foreign exchange was 
involved. When practical reasons were given by us 
to these experts, they usually remained unconvinced 
and looked at our cases with deplorable apathy. . . . 
Their attitude amounted to block, hinder and delay so 
that eventually most cases fell by the wa^ide”. 

The blame for this sorry state of affairs again lies 
with the DGC. Finance officials could not hinder, 
much less veto, proposals which were put up to fulfil 
the National Aim. They would have been (or should 
have been) briefed by the Finance Minister -a key 
member of the DCC - on the broader aspects of national 
defence and preparedness. A Vlien the DGC decisions 
are couched in such vague terms as “to fight a second 
class power”, or carry out “limited defence pre- 
parations” etc., then finance officials can be pardoned 
for concentrating their efforts on “saving the tax-payers 
money”. 

Finance officials enjoy their extraordinary' dis- 
cretionary powers partly due to our out-moded, colonial 
financial and audit control system. Under our fiscal 
policy, funds are allotted for a year at a time and they 
automatically lapse on the 31st of March each year. 
If Finance hindered and blocked proposals, then they 
saved all the lapsed funds. This was treated as an 
achievement on the part of the official who had saved the 
tax-payer and a fa vourable note made in his dossier. The 
tax-payer’s honour was but a secondary consideration- 

The second reason is our budgetary control system- 
The annual budget of the Sendees is carefully forecast 
with the advice of financial advisers, at all levels. A 
great deal of haggling goes on before a firm figure is 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 417 

sent to the Ministry of Finance for inclusion in the 
annual budget proposals to the Lok Sabha. These 
figures are worked out under various heads e.g., 
recurring, non-recurring expenditure and capital projects 
and so on. But this is not the end. When the time 
comes to spend some of the allotted funds, Finance 
again enter the fray and start raising questions about 
why we want this, or can we not make do with less 
and so on ad nauseam. Every minor expenditure requires 
financial “approval”. Financial experts are positioned 
at all levels, and this sort of scrutiny goes on down to 
the humble Engineer Officer who tries to put up a 
hutment -he has to “justify” his expert engineering 
specifications! 

If a Sendee recommends a saving at one point, to 
find the money to introduce a new idea, the saving is 
gratefully snatched but the new' idea is squashed. If 
the Army recommends a change in organisation, it 
is asked why the French Army has not got what we are 
asking for. The explanation that the French Army is 
not deployed in the Himalayas sometimes makes 
Finance relent and other times is not considered 
sufficient. When wc ask for something and say that 
the British Army has it, we arc told that as a poor 
country we cannot afford everything the British Army 
has! The same arguments are used to deny changes 
and improvements. It is all very frustrating. 

The eventual solution undoubtedly lies in having 
some sort of contract budget system . Under this system, 
the Defence Ministry would be granted a sum of money, 
after due pre-budget scrutiny, and thereafter it will be 
given a fairly free hand in details. The only stipulation 
is that the budget must not be exceeded in whole or 
under each head. Financial advisers would then really be 
advisers and book-keepers instead of arbiters of India’s 
defence destiny. A thorough spring-cleaning of our 
methods and procedures is urgently called for, and it is 
heartening to note that the Administrative Reforms 



418 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Committee has given this matter due attention and 
has recommended changes on these lines. 

Our present system makes it impossible to pin- 
point responsibility. Who is to blame? The Services 
for faulty recommendations ; or the Ministry of Defence 
for delay; or Finance for financial stringency? There 
must be one authority responsible, and this authority 
can only be an integrated HQ, of civilians, military 
officers and financial experts, under the Defence 
Minister. No future culprits should be given the 
loop-hole to evade responsibility by blaming Finance. 
Equally let us do away with financial experts whose 
main aim is “to effect savings in the defence budget". 
Year after year the Defence Ministry has been surren- 
dering funds, and such surrenders have been greeted 
with thunderous applause in the Lok Sabha and in the 
Press. There is something wrong somewhere. 

Chiefs of Staff Committee 

So far we have dealt with the Cabinet and the 
Ministries of Defence and Finance. We now come to 
the highest military body in the country viz. The Chiefs 
of Staff Committee comprising the three Service Chiefs. 
Under the present system, the Chairman is the Chief 
who has held office longest. In a well regulated 
democratic set-up this expert body renders advice to 
the political bosses - advice which under most circum- 
stances is treated with the respect that must be accorded 
to the best military talent that a nation can muster. 
The reader will have noted that this Committee played 
but an insignificant part in the deliberations that pre- 
ceded the larger defence decisions from time to time. 

Many major military powers have adopted the 
system of appointing a permanent Chairman, the post 
going to the most competent officer, irrespective of Us 
parent Service. He is generally designated as the 
Chief of Defence Staff; or Chairman Chiefs of Staff 
He is responsible for overall policy and co-ordinauon 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 


419 


of all three Services. Unified co-ordination of the 
defence effort, at the professional level, under a military 
expert has many transparent advantages; and prima 
facie , is better than having the Defence Minister dealing 
with the three Services separately. This is especially 
so in our case, as we are living under a semi-war state of 
readiness, and shall have to so live in the foreseeable 
future. 

A well-chosen Chief of Defence Staff would not owe 
allegiance to any Service. He would be required to 
take the broadest possible view of the National Strategy; 
the requirements of each Service; the size and com- 
position of the various Services and the financial appro- 
priations. He would of course not act arbitrarily but 
be guided by the advice of the heads of each Service, 
although the statutory responsibility would be his. 

The present Chiefs of Staff system encourages a good 
deal of parochialism, friction and horse-trading. The 
ex-officio Chairman has not the authority or standing to 
speak for all three Services in the Higher Direction of 
War. This role is filled by the Defence Minister and 
his civilian advisers. The Chiefs of Staff are some- 
times reduced to a mere formality. Is it fair and 
proper to expect a Minister to take on the duty ofbeing 
a titular Chairman of an expert body? 

Our foreign policy up to 1962 primarily required 
us to be prepared to defend ourselves in Kashmir and 
the Himalayan Sino-Indian borders; and possibly in 
the. plains of the Punjab. We had no ambitions or 
desire to fight outside our territorial limits, or to organise 
an Expeditionary Force. In view of this, ground forces 
had . the predominant role and the other Services the 
subsidiary roles. This must be so for many years to 
come until we have built-up our industrial base and have 
maritime interests which we can safeguard with our own 
industrial backing. Even if we have to take over the 
mantle of the departing British in the Indian Ocean, 
it will be many years before we can afford a sizeable 



420 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Navy. Equally, it will take a decade or more to develope 
a Strategic Air Force. Of course it is right and proper 
that we keep alive the technique of naval warfare and 
strategic air warfare, for the day when we are ready 
to become a major military power, but not at the 
expense of the deployed field army. 

The point that I wish to make is that the organ- 
isation and armament of a nation’s defence forces is 
dictated by the nation’s fundamental interests and 
foreign policy. It is militarily unsound to deny the 
Infantry an automatic rifle and a modem mortar on 
financial grounds, while we spend millions on an out- 
dated aircraft carrier and expanding dockyard facilities. 
We had no money to buy helicopters and mules, and 
yet found money for other items xvltich could not be of 
any use in the event of a Sino-Indian border war. This 
is a straightforward matter of getting our priorities right, 
in the larger National interests. No Indian worth his 
salt would look at this problem in any other way. 
I am certain that if we had a Naval Chief of Defence 
Staff in the years preceding the Sino-Indian conflict 
of 1962, he would have pressed for better equipment for 
the ground forces, even at the expense of the Navy. 
As a responsible Indian, he would have had no other 
option. 

The main obstacle to the adoption of the Defence 
Chief system is the fear of the Army by the other two 
Services. The Army is by far the largest Service and 
will remain so for many years to come. The Chief 
would probably have to be found from the Army - a 
possibility that would not be relished by the Air Force 
and Navy. They might prefer to be independent and 
have the right to represent their requirements to the 
Defence Minister directly. They would argue, with 
some justification, that they would stand a better chance 
of getting a larger slice of the cake. We can only hope 
that patriotism and realism, will prevail over narrow 
parochialism; and we see the day when the vital fink 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 421 

of the Chiefs of Staff will be reformed to serve the 
larger interests of the Country more effectively. 

The second hurdle to the adoption of a unified 
Services’ command set-up could well be put up by the 
politician and the civil servant. The Civil Authority 
relish the present loose arrangements as this gives them 
the power and opportunity to adjudicate in purely 
Service matters, and on professional issues. The Civil 
Authority remains undiluted ; and there is no delegation 
of power to any Serviceman. 

It is to be hoped that with increasing maturity at 
all levels Government will take an objective view of 
this very vital organisational matter. The National 
interests demand a unified command structure of the 
three Sendees, to utilise our meagre resources to the best 
advantage, to ward off the Pakistani and Cliincse threats. 

The present Chiefs of Staff system eventually finds 
expression in the loose command and control arrange- 
ments in the field. We have already noted that air 
transport support Squadrons functioned independently 
and there was no co-ordination between the tasks given 
to the Army and the resources or capability of the 
Air Force. Despite the clear lessons of World War II, 
we have not evolved the task force method, whereby an 
integrated team of the Army and Air Force is set up 
to prosecute a particular campaign. Conferences and 
Liaison Officers are no substitutes for unity of command. 
Unity of command is fundamental and more suited to 
the Indian temperament. Only the British are abfc 
to work the committee system and “co-operate” success- 
fully. ^ The Americans and the French believe in the 
principle of unity of command - in fact this was one of 
Napoleon’s most established precepts. 

The lack of co-ordination beween the Army and 
Air Force in the matter of air drops at Tsangdhar, 
between 10th and 20th October 1962, was the primary 
cause of the misplaced hopes of building-up and main- 
taining a force in the Namka Ghu Valley. The Army 



422 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


and Air Force received separate orders from Govern- 
ment, and when the air drops were ineffective there 
was no single military voice to protest to the Govern- 
ment. The Air Force had dropped the tonnages 
ordered -it did not matter that they were dropped 
beyond retrieval. 

The Air Force was short of helicopters in 1962. 
Who was to blame? The Army or the Air Force or 
the Defence Minister? Who was to enunciate the 
requirement of helicopters, the only source of mobility 
in the mountains? This is but one example where a 
unified command would have ensured the disposal of 
the necessary air effort, having regard to the prevailing 
conditions and the terrain. 

The Cabinet Secretariat (Military Wing) 

The Chiefs of Staff are assisted by a high-powered 
secretariat, forming part of the Cabinet Secretariat. 
At the top we have the Joint Planning Committee, 
(JPC) made up of the Director of Military' Operations, 
the Air Force Director of Policy and Plans and the 
Director of Naval Plans. This Committee is assisted 
by a permanent Joint Planning Staff, an inter-Service 
staff of hand-picked officers. All these professional 
experts are required to prepare operational plans tor 
the Chiefs, or to carry out inter-Service staff studies ot 
subjects referred to them by the Chiefs. These officers 
are not burdened with routine chores and can con- 
centrate on the larger planning issues. It is a matter 
of conjecture whether the JPC had any hand in the 
formulation of the Forward Policy. It is certain tha 
they were not consulted, nor did they function in 
September-October 1962, due to the haste of our actions 
and the invalid assumptions on which we based our 
decision to have a military show-down with the Chinese, 
whatever the cost. 

Parallel to the JPC, we have the Joint Intelligent* 
Committee (JIC) consisting of the Directors of Intelh- 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 423 

gence of the three Services and representatives of 
certain ministries which are concerned with these 
matters. This Committee also appears to have been 
placed on the side-line in 1962. It would be pertinent 
to enquire whether this body received any appreciation 
from the Intelligence Bureau and advised the Chiefs of 
Staff and through them the DCC, of the Chinese 
intentions and the magnitude of their build-up. If they 
did not, we must know the reason. If they did produce 
an appreciation, then what happened to it ? Was it doc- 
tored to conform to the political assumptions ? Or was 
it ignored under political pressure ? Had we mesmerised 
ourselves into believing that there were only two or 
three hundred Chinese soldiers in the Thagla-Dhola 
area? Did the Intelligence Bureau know that two 
Chinese divisions were massed opposite NEFA? Who 
was responsible for the 1961 assessment that the Chinese 
were cracking up? Does the ‘hunch’ of a Prime 
Minister supersede the calculated deductions of such 
an expert body, which has the necessary resources and 
information? Did this expert body function during 
the Nehru-Menon era? 

After we had allowed ourselves to be irretrievably 
enmeshed in the Chinese web, we discounted the eye- 
witness reports of the front-line troops. The Chinese 
build-up was obvious even to newspaper correspondents. 
Let me quote the Times of London of 11th October 1962: 
“There is no apparent realisation here (New Delhi) 
of the magnitude of the military contest that India 
may now have begun. Observers in a position to 
know better are still speaking lightly of a swift action 
to eject the 300 to 400 Chinese. Official accounts of 
continual strengthening of the original Chinese Force 
have been ignored”. Comment is superfluous. 

There are other inter-service and inter-ministry 
committees and expert bodies to assist the Government 
and the Chiefs of Staff in their duties. They too were 
not called upon to function in 1962. The moral of all 



424 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


this is that wars cannot be planned by one or two 
people meeting informally in someone’s office. 

Chief of Army Staff 

The Chief of Army Staff exercises command over 
the Army and discharges his responsibility to his 
political boss through Army HQ,. Although he must 
operate within the frame-work of the policy laid down 
by the Defence Minister, he is the final authority for 
issuing executive and operational orders to HQ’s 
Command. He must never be by-passed by politicians 
issuing orders direct to subordinate commanders. An 
equally important responsibility is to render advice to 
the Minister. The relationship between the political 
head and the Sendee Chief depends on their personalities 
and there arc no hard and fast rules or precedents. 
But there is nothing more fatal to the destiny of a nation 
than to have a strong and wilful Defence Minister and 
a compliant Chief as we had in 1962. A Chief must 
have the confidence of his political bosses and should 
have unquestioned prestige in the Country and the 
military community. In a country like India, beset 
with the constant threat of war and lack of funds, 
the Chief carries an awesome burden. Denigrating and 
downgrading the status of the Chief carries within 
itself the seeds of disaster in war. He should never be 
treated as inferior to any civilian on defence matters 
and his authority should never be eroded by according 
exaggerated importance to any junior general as in 
the case of ICauI. The Chief is subordinate to, hut not 
inferior, to the political personalities of the time. 

In both World Wars Britain had powerful and self- 
willed Prime Ministers in Mr. Lloyd George and Sir 
Winston Churchill. It is to their credit that they 
selected equally powerful and capable Army Chiefs m 
Generals Robertson and Lord Alanbrooke. Alanbrookc 
is the beau-ideal of a great Chief of Staff and is the type 
of man and officer required to shield the Army from any 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 


425 


misuse of the temporary power bestowed on the political 
head, or to resist the imposition of impossible military 
tasks. Churchill and AJanbrookc worked that most 
misused term Civil Supremacy in the correct and 
healthy way, although their personal relations were 
not always cordial. They led Britain from the despon- 
dency of Dunkirk in 1940 to the final Allied victories 
in 1945. 

The prime duty of the Chief is to ensure that the 
Army has a clear objective from Government and that 
the Army is fully geared to fulfil this objective. It is 
almost unbelievable that for many years Cliicfs had 
tried to function in a vacuum without proper directives. 
Nehru’s vague directions were accepted as Govern- 
ment orders. Gen. Thimayya was the only vocal 
dissident and we know' how he was silenced. 

A Chief must act fearlessly both in peace and war, 
especially if he is being hustled into a military course 
which he feels may land the nation in disaster. To 
put it mildly, Gen. Thapar’s tenure was notable only 
for his conformity with the prevailing mood of Govern- 
ment. He foresaw the impending doom but was too 
helpless to influence events. The Nehru-Menon- 
Thxmayya episode of 1959 had far-reaching effects on 
the authority and role of the Service Chiefs. Seeing how' 
Thimayya was silenced and sensing that popular opinion 
generally favoured the politician on the grounds of the 
sanctity of civil supremacy, Gen. Thapar probably 
thought discretion was the better part of valour, and 
confined himself to verbal and occasional written repre- 
sentations. It is said that he and his CGS appreciated 
the shortcomings of the Army and had represented 
these to Government but they failed to get any response 
to their urgent pleas for equipment and other require- 
ments. There are many stories of backroom battles 
being waged at the secretarial level, with the benevolent 
help of influential Secretaries from other ministries and 
how these attempts proved abortive. The reader may 



426 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


well ask what was the earthly use of letting matters 
rest at an exchange of pieces of paper. Why did the 
Chief not threaten to resign or refuse to implement 
the Forward Policy if he felt that the Army was not 
prepared for such a role? Why did he order the Army 
Commanders to establish more posts without giving 
them the military capability to administer and protect 
these posts? The answer is plain and simple. By 
1962 the fangs of the Army Brass had been skilfully 
removed and they feared a confrontation with the 
politician, especially those of the power and eminence 
of Nehru and Menon. They feared that their loyalty, 
patriotism and integrity would be questioned by a 
hostile public and Press who tend to side with the 
Civil Authority. Besides, Thapar had been selected to 
conform and not to argue. 

An enlightened public and a strong, independent 
Press must maintain strict impartiality in judging a 
major policy crisis arising out of a disagreement between 
the professional and political heads of the Armed 
Forces. The intrusion of fallacious concepts of Civil 
Supremacy will only stifle argument and still the pro- 
fessional voice till the time comes for rude awakening-as 
in 1962. In a serious divergence of opinion, which forces 
a Chief to submit his resignation, both the Service 
Chief and the politician must get a fair hearing at the 
bar of public opinion and during Parliamentary scrutiny. 
The high standards of the Western armies is largely 
due to this healthy and time-honoured custom. Any 
attempt to brow-beat a Service Chief or to pick one 
who is likely to conform is a self-defeating arrangement. 
The elimination of outspoken generals is unfair both 
to the Army as well as the Nation. In the Nation’s 
highest planning bodies discussion and disagreement are 
prerequisites for the formulation of sound policies. 

Had Gen. Thapar followed the dictates of his 
conscience and shaped his actions according to his 
military judgement, the course of events in Thagla may 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 427 

have been quite difFerent. Up to 20th October, he 
acquiesced meekly and was party to many questionable 
decisions notably the decision to evict the Chinese; the 
appointment of Kaul to command a new “corps” and 
not replacing Kaul when he fell ill and was evacuated 
to Delhi. 

Let us first analyse the controversial decision to 
evict the Chinese. We know that Thapar ordered the 
local unit in NEFA to evict the Chinese on the authority 
of a written instruction from “Government” despite his 
qualms about the proposed operation. Although his 
advice and warnings were overruled, he accepted the 
impossible task, and considered himself covered by the 
scrap of paper given to him by a minor dignitary. 

Mr. Nirad C. Chaudhuri tells us the fantastic 
story. He writes: “There was no written directive 
when the attack was first authorised. Instead, the local 
commanders were given verbal instructions by the 
Eastern Command at Lucknow to throw out the Cluncse. 
They represented that they had no resources to carry 
out such a task. At this stage, the Defence Minister 
left for New York to give liis performance before the 
UN. Every tiling was thus left in the air by the man 
who was responsible for the task”. He goes on to add 
that the Army had qualms about carrying out the task: 
“On 22nd September, Thapar refused to authorise an 
attack without a written directive from Government. 
There was consternation and the Deputy Defence 
Minister, Mr. Raghuramaiah, telephoned his chief in 
New York for instructions and was airily told to give 
the order. In the afternoon of 22nd September Gen. 
Thapar got a letter from the Defence Department 
signed by H. C. Sarin, a Joint Secretary, which ran as 
follows (for obvious reasons the citation is not verbatim) : 
“With reference to our discussions this morning, the 
Government have decided that the Chinese should be 
evicted from the Thagla-Dhola area. The Chief of 
Army Staff should take necessary action”. 

Chaudhuri concludes: “Thapar did not have the 



428 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


boldness to throw away this scrap of paper into the 
waste-paper basket. But at all events the General 
wrote back to the Joint Secretary to say that the order 
involved great risks. There was no reply to that letter 
from the august civilian, nor even an acluiowledgement”. 
The authority and status of the Chief of Army Staff 
had been so eroded over the years that he was on a 
par with a mere Joint Secretary even in the matter of 
going to war. This was a scandalous misuse of purely 
political and executive authority which the Cabinet 
derived from Parliament and which it could not delegate 
to assorted civil officials. Only the Cabinet was 
authorised to take such a momentous decision and the 
order should have been issued by the DCC to the Cliiefs 
of Staff Committee - but then this Committee had also 
been do^graded by the Menon regime. 

Tlie reader will recall that this “scrap of paper” 
became the “Aim” for the Appreciation which the 
Chief ordered the local commander to prepare during 
23rd-28th September. In spite of his misgivings about 
the risks involved, Thapar did not recall the Chief of 
the General Staff, Gen. Kaul, from leave. Thapar did 
not visit the front to personally explain the facts. He 
merely issued slogans from Dehli. 

Many of the omissions which resulted in the trage- 
dy of 1962 can legitimately and fairly be attributed to 
Gen. Thapar. He had achieved little in preparing the 
Army for a war with China; and gave it no leadership 
after 8th September 1962. He was content to cover Jum- 
self and let the forward troops be committed to impossible 
tasks. He is said to have got tough after the Chinese 
were hundreds of miles inside Indian territory, but 
then it was too late for dramatic gestures. Had he 
stood his ground on 22nd September 1962 and insisted 
on a Cabinet meeting, he might have forced the return 
of Nehru and Menon from abroad. The Government 
may have been forced to a realistic approach to the 
Chinese incursion instead of being committed to a hard 
posture from wliich there was no retreat. 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 


429 


Array Headquarters 

The Chief of Army Staff is assisted by and functions 
through Army HQ., a vast and complex organisation 
of numerous cells. It took me fully one year to find 
out who deals with what subject. By 1962, Army HQ 
had ceased to be the solid professional, independent and 
objective organ which it was designed to be. The 
cumulative effects of the lack of rapport between the 
politician, soldier and civilian and the domination of 
Nehru and Menon had rendered Army HQ impotent. 
Most of the senior officers at Army HQ were cowed 
down by Kaul whose authority was unquestioned and 
whose views prevailed. 

Army IIQ is divided into four main branches 
each headed by a Principal Staff Officer (PSO) of the 
rank of Lt.-Gencral. Each branch has a number of 
directorates under Lt. -Generals, Maj. -Generals and a 
few under brigadiers. It goes without saying that the 
Chief must be the unquestioned boss and the politicians 
should never deal with any other officer, on major 
policy matters. Equally, the Chief must have faith 
and trust in his PSO’s. Any friction at the highest 
level impedes the smooth running of the whole Army. 

The real art of being a successful Chief is to co- 
ordinate and control the working of all Brandies. 
Army HQ can be compared to a train in that it cannot 
be stopped suddenly; it cannot be reversed without 
first bringing it to a halt; and it cannot leave its track 
and move in a new direction. The fountain-head of 
real, effective co-ordination is the issue of clear, long- 
term orders to enable the numerous cells to work to a 
common purpose. This may appear to be self-evident 
and yet we know that for years Army HQ functioned 
without clear Government notions of what was expected 
of the Army. In the absence of firm, unambiguous 
Cabinet^ orders, the links in the defence chain had no 
clear objectives. This is the crux of the matter. Over 
the years, Army HQ had been reduced to an adminis- 



430 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


trative HQ. instead of General Headquarters controlling 
field armies. 

The primary duty of Army HQ is to prepare the 
operational plans and gear up the Army for war. All 
other functions are subordinate to this. Even the 
truncated NEFA Enquiry Board had a few harsh words 
to say about the manner in which Army HQ, carried 
out its forward planning. Talking of staff work, 
Mr. Chavan said: “Now about our staff work and 
procedures. There are clear procedures of staff work 
laid down at all levels. The inquiry has, however, 
revealed that much more attention will have to be 
given than was done in the past, in the work anc * 
procedures of the General Staff at Service HQs, as 
well as the Command and below, to long-term planning, 
including logistics as well as the problem of co-ordination 
among various Service HQ’s. So one major lesson 
learnt is that the quality of General Staff work ana 
the depth of its prior planning in time is going to be 
one of the most crucial factors in future preparedness . 

This statement by a politician cleverly lets his 
colleagues off the hook because no General Staff can 
plan without clear Government orders. Surely tne 
Army did not need a slap in the face to learn the hrs 
lesson, of the first primer, of military science? v\na 
depth of planning did we need for what Governmen 
thought was a non-existent threat? What plans can 
the General Staff draw up if the Prime Minister sa> 
that the enemy is cracking up, and he refuses to aio 
additional funds? Mr. Chavan’s statement gives t c 
impression that if someone had “polished up” our p a P c 
plans, we may have done better. That is not so. 
us follow the various stages which go into real, deep, 
long-term planning. 

The Army is not capable of responding iostantb 
to a fundamentally new situation which a vocal pu * 
opinion may force on the Government in power, 
certainly could not produce the military power to cop 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 


4-31 


with the massive Chinese invasion which Government 
had not foreseen and for which it had not geared up 
the nation. 

Before 8th September 1962, there were no General 
Staff plans for dealing with Chinese incursions or for 
repelling a full-scale invasion. Such plans as were 
drawn up were more in the nature of a political com- 
promise. The border deployment of troops was designed 
to stake our claims. The misgivings of the forward 
commanders were dismissed with the observation that 
there was no prospect of a war with China in the fore- 
seeable future. As Government did not anticipate a 
war, it did not bother to issue any directives to the 
Army. Had there been any apprehension of war with 
China, we would have gone about our business some- 
what on these lines. 

Military Intelligence would have been ordered to 
prepare an objective study of the Chinese threat in all 
its aspects, a study without which there can be no 
purposeful military response. Military Operations would 
then have made a formal appreciation of the situation 
and drawn up an outline plan, indicating the troops 
required, the specialised equipment and weapons needed 
and so on. Other directorates of the General Staff go 
into the question of new raisings, gearing up domestic 
production and making a shopping list for purchases 
from abroad where vital items are not likely to be 
available locally in time. The General Staff is assisted 
by experts from the administrative branches with 
whom there will be a series of conferences to arrive 
at the required logistic cover to sustain the projected 
operations. . The Quarter-Master General’s Branch is 
a vital one in war as logistics is a Principle of War. The 
importance of administration had been emphasised by 
every captain of war in history, and has not been under- 
rated by any. The Quarter-Master General has to 
plan the layout of depots, fonvard dumps, movement 
control, veterinary cover, postal and canteen cover. 



432 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The Services must ensure an uninterrupted flow of the 
*Q) requirements of the fonvard troops who must never 
be asked to look back for their needs. ‘Q| control all 
forms of transport from heavy transport aircraft down 
through heavy lorries to jeeps, mules and porters. 

In 1962, we virtually had nothing at the right 
time and place. The force sent to the Namka Chu 
was made to fend for itself. We hoped to undo the 
lack of forward planning, the years of neglect and the 
shortage of funds, by driving unacclimatised troops on 
“hard scales and pouch ammunition”. We dropped 
vast tonnages by air and ordered the front line troops 
to “retrieve or perish”. To regain mobility, we com- 
mandeered the local Border Roads Pioneers who were 
spread over 200 miles. This was a strange breach of 
all the canons of military administration. Could all 
this have been put right by better staff work? 

The Master General of Ordnance Branch is 
responsible for the procurement and distribution of 
war-like stores based on the General Staff estimates. 
They arc responsible for repair, maintenance and 
replacement of all major items. Ordnance ensures 
regular replacements by the setting up of forward 
dumps. In 1962 we were short of most ordnance items 
and tried to rush stores from rear depots and even fly 
out snow-clothing from Canada. 

Where are the civil servants and finance officials 
who “blocked, hindered and delayed” the setting up 
of the required pipeline for feeding the fighting forma- 
tions in NEFA and Ladakh? Why have they not been 
called to account ? In fairness to the civil officials, it must 
be said however that they are handicapped in carrying 
out their duties due to the vagueness of Government s 
intentions. Their initial confusion is compounded 
when politicians go around making such off-the-cun 
remarks as “there will be no war in the near future 
or “there is no money for defence” or “the Cliinese arc 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 


433 


cracking up”. The situation is irretrievable when the 
Finance and Defence Ministers arc barely on talking 
terms. If only the politicians will appreciate how 
damaging their casual utterances can be to officialdom 
they may learn the virtues of silence. There is one 
more factor which breeds delays. Civilian officials are 
denied access to Top-Secret operational plans and it is 
grossly unfair to expect them to use wisdom and act 
with urgency when they do not know what all the hurry 
is about. It is amazing that officials who cannot be 
trusted with secrets have the last word about whether 
the Army shall have something or not. 

The result of all these intcr-Brancli and Ministry 
confabulations should result in the production of a 
draft operation order to HQ. Commands which is sent 
to them for comments, to ensure that no unreasonable 
task is thrust upon them as was done in 1962. Once 
the order is approved, with such modifications as have 
been mutually agreed upon, a final Army HQ. Opera- 
tion Order is made out under the signature of the 
Chief himself. A copy is given to the Defence Minister 
to obtain political clearance as well as to confirm that 
the Army is ready, willing and able to implement the 
Aims of the Nation. It is only at this stage that 
politicians can take a decision which may lead to war. 

This process is inevitably slow and laborious, but 
then nations do not drift into war. There is usually a 
decade or more of warning and we in India did have a 
long warning period which wc wasted on wrong theories. 

Once the Operation Order lias been issued, all 
energies will be devoted to training the Army for its 
role. Training for operations is a pre-requisite for 
success in war — a self-explanatory fact which is not 
always appreciated by the layman. An important 
and influential civilian official once asked me at a large 
formal conference, at Army HQ., why was it that the 
Army needed large sums of money annually to train. 
He said: “Tell me Colonel, am I to understand that 



434 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


the Army is untrained’*? I was hard put to give fiim 
a diplomatic answer. 

There is an old Japanese Army saying that “In 
peace an army trains for war, in war it trains for 
operations”. Training had been completely neglected 
in the years preceding 1962 and the Army was found 
wanting when the Chinese attacked. Let Mr. Chavan 
reveal the findings of the NEFA Enquiry Board: “The 
inquiry has revealed that our basic training was sound 
and soldiers adapted themselves to the mountains 
adequately. It is admitted that the training of our 
troops did not have orientation towards operations 
vis-a-vis the particular terrain in which the troops had 
to operate. Our training of troops did not have a 
slant for war being launched by China. Thus our 
troops had no requisite knowledge of the Chinese 
tactics and ways of war, their weapons, equipment and 
capabilities. Knowledge of the enemy helps to build 
up the confidence and morale, so essential for the 
jawan on the front”. The last sentence must surely 
be the understatement of the century. 

He went on to add: “The inquiry has revealed 
that there is certainly a need for toughening and batdc 
inoculation. It is therefore essential that batde schools 
are opened at training centres and formations, so that 
gradual toughening and battle inoculation can be 
carried out”. 

He ended by saying: “It has also been revealed 
that the main aspect of training as well as the higher 
commanders’ concept of mountain warfare requires to 
be put right. Training alone, however, without correct 
leadership will pay little dividends. Thus the need at 
the moment, above all else, is training in leadership’ . 

What can one add to this dismal picture of what 
passed for training in die years when politicians were 
making bombastic and reassuring statements to the Lok 
Sabha? And is there any doubt that the blame lies 
at the door of the General Staff? Once we had 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 435 

accepted the possibility of war and had moved to the 
Indo-Tibetan Border, it was imperative to re-orientate 
the training of the Army for operations in the Himalayan 
Mountains. We had moved to NEFA in 1959 and yet 
up to 1962 we had not got down to training to fight the 
Chinese, at those heights. Why is it then that we did 
not do anything? The answer is simple. Wc did not 
have any clear and feasible operational plans on the 
basis of which the troops would have been required to 
organise and plan their training programmes. The 
main emphasis was on survival and wc used our troops 
to carry logs, build helipads and otherwise act as 
labourers to ensure their survival in the Himalayas. 

Formations' were deployed for years without being 
relieved for periodic training camps. The Army Order 
of Battle did not cater for additional formations to man 
the borders whilst the front-line troops were training 
for mobile operations. In April 1962, a half-hearted 
attempt was made to hold an “exercise with troops” but 
nothing came of it. 

When war came in 1962, 7 Infantry Brigade had 
NEVER carried out a single manoeuvre since it had been 
exercised in the plains of the Punjab, in early 1959. 

Wc already know that the infantry battalions had 
not had a chance to fire their weapons. Under these 
circumstances, no formation has the slightest chance of 
survival in war, against a first-class land power. The 
Troops wc rushed from the Punjab were largely in- 
effective as they were lost in the mountains. 

The blame for this state of affairs lies with the 
General Staff, the Army Commander and the formation 
commanders, including myself who accepted command 
of troops who were not ready, and who were not allowed 
to get ready for war. Senior commanders were content 
to accept an “operational role” without any theore- 
tical or practical experience of operating against the 
Chinese! 



436 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


It is astonishing that Gen. Kaul who was the Chief 
of the General Staff should now ask his subordinate 
formation commanders to offer an explanation if their 
troops and units were not “professionally up to the 
mark”. 

* * * 


Before leaving the General Staff, let us take a look 
at the state of weapons and equipment of the Army in 
1962. We have already enumerated the crippling 
shortages of all items and the lack of mobility of the 
troops rushed to Thagla. Speaking of this, Mr. Gliavan 
said “The second question was about our equipment. 1 he 
inquiry has confirmed that there was indeed an overall 
shortage of equipment both for training and during 
the operations. But it was not always the case t ia 
particular equipment was not available at all wi i 
the armed forces anywhere in the country. ih c 
crucial difficulty in many cases was that, while the 
equipment could be reached to the last point in t c 
plains or even beyond them, it was another matter o 
reach it in time, mostly by air or by animal or human 
transport, to the forward formations, who took the 
brunt of the fighting. The position of logistics Mas 
aggravated by two factors: (i) the fast rate at whici 
troops had to be inducted, mostly from the plains o 
.high mountain areas; and («) lack of a properly bui 
roads and other means of communications, -t 
situation was aggravated and made worse because o 
an overall shortage as far as vehicles were concerne , 
and our fleet was too old and its efficiency not adequa 
for operating on steep gradients and mountain terrain. 
. . . The inquiry has pin-pointed the need to make up 
the deficiency in equipment particularly suited o 
mountain warfare, but more so to provide means an 
modes of communication to make it available to 1 


troops at the right place at the right time . * • • 
The discerning reader will at once note the impl*^ 
criticism of the Government, the Ministry of Dclcn 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 437 

and Finance and the General Staff who arc equally to 
blame for allowing this unhappy state to exist, and 
what is more to try and bluff the Chinese with all 
these transparent weaknesses. It is pertinent to ask 
whether Mr. Nehru was aware of all this. It must 
remain a matter of speculation whether the Prime 
Minister and the Cabinet had received any assurance 
from the Defence Minister of the operational readi- 
ness of the Army, before everyone started making 
brave and bombastic statements to Parliament and 
the Press. Had Mr. Mcnon carried out periodic 
objective studies of our defence readiness, as he was 
bound to do as the political head of the Armed 
Forces, he could not have rested after deploying the 
Army along the Indo-Tibetan Border. There could 
have been no clash with Finance if he had alerted 
Mr. Nehru; nor would he have had to stretch every 
available rupee to the utmost. He would have been 
given the rupees or the National Aim would have been 
tailored to our resources. 

* * * 

The Adjutant General’s Branch is responsible for 
all personnel and disciplinary' matters. Their work is 
not spectacular in peace-time. Nevertheless, terms and 
conditions of service, welfare and other morale factors 
play an important part in the fighting efficiency of 
any army, and more so in a volunteer one. A neglected 
Army is not a good fighting force. Finance hamper 
and veto all efforts to ameliorate the conditions of service 
in an Army which is largely deployed in hardship 
areas, for prolonged periods. Nothing is more galling 
than to be constantly compared with the “civil counter- 
part”. Hie reader will recall the announcement of the 
grant of a “High Altitude Allowance” on 6th October, 
after Finance had blocked the proposal for years. This 
was not very edifying. 



438 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The Penalty for Hustling 

It is axiomatic that no nation should allow itself 
to fight a war for which it is not prepared. It is for 
the politician to prevent the political issues which 
could lead to war reaching the stage where hostilities 
become inevitable. There are many ways in which 
canny politicians play for time. September 1962 was 
about the worst possible time in which to get involved 
in a war. We had established a string of half-baked 
outposts which the Chinese had not openly challenged. 
During the preceding three years little had been done 
to train and equip the Army for a war. 

When the Chinese entered Indian territory in 
strength on 8th September 1962, the Government was 
flabbergasted. It could not very well take the affront 
lying down, and decided on a policy of bluff. Bluffing 
the Indian people was easy; it was not so easy to blun 
the Chinese. The Government lost the initiative in 
the early stages. Without waiting for a senior com- 
mander to reach the Namka Chu and assess the Chinese 
threat. Government took the “decision” to evict the 
Chinese. The Defence Minister pushed the Chief; the 
Chief pushed the Army Commander; and the Army 
Commander pushed the nearest brigade to the River. 
The Government was now squarely enmeshed in a web 
of its own words. Thereafter it was compelled to act as 
best as it could. Government’s decision has since been 
characterised as “a plain act of political opportunism 
in the face of the ignorant clamour of the Opposition 
and the uninformed public”. According to Mr. 

C. Chaudhuri “The political authorities had asked the 
soldiers to open an offensive without giving them a 
chance to win. The contemplated offensive was noo 
approached as a military measure. It was insisted 
upon in the most frivolous manner out of a sense o 
political expediency”. 

The Government made another serious mistake m 
the early stages. It donned blinkers and refused 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 439 

consider the wider repercussions in Ladakh in die 
event that die Thagla incident could not be localised. 
The Chinese -were known to have concentrated a large 
force there and our defences were woefully weak. Both 
Gens. Daulet Singh (Western Army) and Sen (Eastern 
Army) had expressed their inability to cope with any 
escalation of the Sino-Indian confrontation. Despite 
this expert advice, Government remained adamant 
that we had to “do our best” or Government would 
forfeit public confidence. Mr. Chaudhuri has lambasted 
Government in his inimitable style: “The Government 
thought as if they (Chinese) were a number of impor- 
tunate beggars at their door and asked the durwan 
(watchman) to drive the noisy fellows away, or even it 
appeared to them that the problem was like shooting 
birds from a garden, and it was enough to employ a 
sprightly boy. But the Chinese were not sparrows*’. 

In this sort of setting of political hustling and 
bravado, the General Staff and local field commanders 
became superfluous. Army HQ, became the agency for 
passing on Government orders which were being freely 
issued at the frequent high-powered conferences with 
politicians and civilians. There ivas no chance to 
draw up fresh strategic plans for the entire border. 
There was no time to organise defence in depth, secure 
bases or assured supply fines. Every principle of war 
was violated. 

The Government’s “orders” were never processed 
at Army HQ, before being passed down the line. The 
key directors at Army HQ. did not seem to know what 
>vas happening. The Director of Military Operations 
was still blissfully hoping to let his 9th Gorkhas spend 
Dussehra in Yol. The Director of Staff Duties was 
compelled to resort to the extraordinary expedient 
of commandeering the nearest troops in Assam “to 
make 1 up a brigade” to throw out the Chinese. As 
troops were collected they were thrown into the same 
battle.' 



440 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


No formal orders were issued by anyone to anyone. 
No written orders were given to Gen. Sen and he in 
turn gave none to Kaul. Kaul issued one verbal order 
which he confirmed in a brief cryptic signal. The 
mental reservations of tiic Army Chief found expression 
in the vague signals sent - generally a paraphrase of the 
political order. From time to time, these orders were 
issued: (1) Establish contact with Dhola; (2) Evict the 
Chinese from the Namka Chu (as if the Chinese had iio 
say in the matter!) (3) Ensure no further Chinese in- 
cursion south of Thagla; (4) Clear all Chinese south of 
Thagla ; and (5) Ensure the security of all crossings over 
the Namka Chu. 

Since Government did not deem it fit to issue 
formal orders through the correct channels, no one 
else was prepared to stick his neck out and sign any- 
thing. It is startling to remember that throughout the 
operation, I was not given a single operation order in 
writing. I was not given a single intelligence appre- 
ciation and I was never issued a single administrative 
instruction. My immediate superior, GOG 4 Division, 
did not give me a single order on his own initiative or 
based on his own assessment of the military task. 
In the case of 7 Brigade, the operation lasted for 
42 days from 8th September to 20th October, enough 
time for the most dim-witted staff officer to produce a 
written confirmatory order. 

* * sp 

' ^ The curious way of issuing orders and getting 
things moving played” havoc with the established chain 
of command and control. Let us hear Mr. Chavan 
again: “The third question is regarding our system of 
command within the armed forces. The inquiry has 
revealed that there is nothing basically wrong with 
the system and chain of command, provided it is 
exercised in the accepted manner at various levels. 
There is however a need for the realisation of response 
bilities at various levels which must work with trust 



FAULTY HIGHER' DIRECTION OF WAR 


441 


and confidence with one another. It has also been 
revealed that during the operations, difficulties arose 
only when* there was a departure from the accepted 
chain of command. There again, such departures 
occurred mainly owing to haste and lack of prior plan- 
ning”. The Inquiry Board then goes on to record 
this severe censure: “The inquiry has revealed the 
practice that has crept into the higher army formations 
of interfering in tactical details even to the extent of 
detailing troops for specific tasks. It is the duty of 
commanders in the field to make on-the-spot decisions 
when so required, and details of operations must be 
left to them”. 

Mr. Chavan has again skilfully extricated his 
political colleagues. The impression he gives is that 
only the Army Brass interfered with local commanders. 
The criticism is applicable to the political figures as 
well. It was Government which pressed the panic 
buttons thereby forcing everyone to command every 
unit within sight. Interference from above is a clear 
indication that the forward troops have no faith in the 
mission and no confidence in the leadership. Here we 
must blame everyone at Delhi who was pounding, 
prodding and pushing the local troops to do the 
impossible. If plans are correctly devised and are 
accepted at all levels, then the actual tactical details 
can be left to the field commanders in the chain of 
command. Army HQ, and Government can rest 
content with, watching, assisting and providing moral 
and logistic support. There would be no need to use 
the goad on reluctant subordinates. 

' Politicians and commanders who had no idea of 
the battle-field started issuing orders for the move of 
units and sub-units without appreciating the other 
relevant factors.- When a military order cannot be 
justified with professional arguments, it will be resisted 
by the recipient. The only way to get any action is 
to order units and sub-units directly, threaten juniors 
and forget all about the normal battle procedures. 



442 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Interference started at the level of Mr. Menon 
himself. He and his deputies held almost daily con- 
ferences and required the presence of those who should 
have been with the troops. Since we had no pre-plans 
and had no idea of how we were going to achieve the 
miracle of evicting the Chinese, daily confabulations 
became unavoidable. Gen. Sen was summoned to 
Delhi every other day. It is amazing that his presence 
in Delhi was more important than with the troops that 
he had ordered to halt the Chinese incursion. Not 
once was he able to visit me although I was at the end 
of a helipad. 

Another key factor in the breakdown of the com- 
mand set-up was interference with the location of 
commanders. I was evicted from my HQ, on 1 3th 
September and a second time on 4th October. I was 
never really able to set up a working HQ till 16th 
October. Except for my meeting with Gen. Prasad 
between 23rd and 28th September, I could not contact 
him. Gen. Prasad was himself evicted from his HQ. 
Gen. Kaul had no HQ or staff. Gen. Sen functioned 
from Dellii, Lucknow and Tezpur. How could there 
be any orthodox command arrangement? The diffi- 
culties were multiplied by the pernicious habit of 
issuing verbal orders on matters of national importance 
— orders which the initiator would have hesitated to 
give if he was later forced to confirm them in writing. 
That explains why so many rash and hasty orders were 
issued, sometimes based on temper, anger or faulty 
assumptions. 

• The most blatant disregard for the normal channels 
was shown by Kaul, after he assumed command. He 
found the forward troops stalling and he had to assume 
personal command to “intensify operations”. That is 
\vhy he ordered 7 Brigade forward and thereafter gave 
orders for the guarding of all the bridges personally to 
the Rajput Commanding Officer. Later he and the 
politicians decided to hold all the crossings and to 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR 


44-3 


build up Tsangle against the advice of the local com- 
manders and he had to issue personal orders to achieve 
this end. 

* * * 

The order to move 7 Brigade to the Namka Ghu 
was a compulsive reaction ordered without thought, 
without warning and without preparation. We thus 
became party to a policy of bluff without assessing the 
Chinese strength, preparations and intentions. When 
the first riposte failed, we indulged in political gim- 
mickery. We took the spurious decision to raise a 
“corps” overnight, a hoax which raised extravagant 
hopes among Indians. Obviously it was never intended 
to raise a corps as Kaul’s command would consist of 
the same two brigades which were already committed 
and which had no supporting arms or a functioning 
HQ. A corps normally consists of three Divisions of 
three Brigades each, with a full complement of suppor- 
ting arms. 

What right then had anyone to expect an ad hoc 
formation, ill-equipped, out-numbered, out-gunned and 
without administrative backing to challenge an infinitely 
superior Chinese Force? Why did we professionals 
allow ourselves to get embroiled under the most dis- 
advantageous conditions in an all-out war with the 
Chinese, at the time and place of their choosing? Why 
did we allow ourselves to be lured into a trap? 
Mr. Nehru, in a moment of rare introspection gave the 
correct answer. Speaking in the Bajya Sahha on 3rd 
September 1963, he said: “The reverses in NEFA were 
entirely due to the compulsion of events, and no other 
Government would have been able fo do anything vastly 
different”. This honest statement was a welcome 
change from his earlier attitude. After accepting the 
Thagla Confrontation as a political measure and 
knowing fully well that it may end in disaster, Nehru 
feigned surprise.^ He sacked politicians and generals. 
He talked of being stabbed in the back. His protegi 
talked of being" out-numbered and out-wcaponed. 



444 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


I fear that posterity -will not forgive Mr. Nehru 
for his credulity and negligence before 8th September 
1962 and his inept handling of the politico-military' 
situation thereafter. Posterity will not forgive the 
senior Army Officers, including myself, for our ignomi- 
nious roles, although wc may try to still our consciences 
by putting the entire blame on the politicians and/or 
Generals Thapar and Kaul. 

Kaul certainly shares the greater responsibility. 
He had been Quarter-Master General from 1959 to 
1961, and Chief of the General Staff from April 1961 
to October 1962. He was a permanent member of 
the Border Roads Organisation from its inception. He 
was therefore the one General in the Army who should 
have had no illusions about the operational unreadiness 
and indeed the pathetic state of the Army vis-a-vis the 
Chinese in Tibet. How are we to understand his 
ready acceptance of the Forward Policy? How arc 
we to excuse his ready acceptance of the task of evicting 
the Chinese when his predecessor thought that he needed 
a build-up of six months? Was he justified in trying 
to bale-out cornered 'politicians? 

The breakdown of Army' HQ as the fountainhead 
of professional thinking was the most damaging factor 
perpetrated by the Nehru-Menon-Kaul regime. Let 
us be frank and admit that Army HQin 1962 had been 
reduced to the status of messengers of political orders 
which could not be resisted and in which they' had no 
faith. If this is the net result of forceful political leader- 
ship, by a dynamic Defence Minister, then we had better 
have a re-think. 

It is a fact that few Army' officers feel a personal 
sense of involvement in the events which culminated in 
the defeat in NEFA. They feel that those tragic events 
concern Government and den. Kaul. ‘When I returned 
from my imprisonment in China, I met many senior 
officers who had served in key posts during the critical 
days of Septcmber-October *1962. They were in fact 



FAULTY HIGHER DIRECTION OF WAR H5 

keen to meet me and to impress on me that they were 
in no way associated with the chaos of those dap. 
They were anxious to find out what had happened and 
what I proposed to write in my report to Government. 
One and all they disclaimed any responsibility for the 
decisions that were being taken in that hectic month. 
They went to great lengths to explain to me how they 
had tried to put sense into someone’s head but no one 
would listen to their sound military advice. They 
obviously wanted me to exonerate them and their depart- 
ments for their part in the decisions which had led to the 
massacre of my troops. Many of them abused Kaul. 
I found this particularly amusing as most of them were 
indebted to Kaul for their positions and had fallcn-in 
readily with lus ideas. How the mighty had fallen! 
And how the mice roared! 

I was so amazed that I wondered what had 
happened to Army HQ, and the Army’s time-honoured 
wap of functioning. Had it broken down and ceased 
to function? Was it so emasculated by the towering 
personalities of Mcnon and Kaul? Had the Chief 
ignored the Army HQ machine \lith whose help lie is 
supposed to cany out his statutory functions? Did 
he have any staff studies carried out; or else how could 
key persons claim that they did not know what was 
happening? Did the Chief issue orders through the 
normal channels ? No Army expects its Chief to merely 
pass on the impracticable orders of his political bosses. 
Had policy-making been confined to a select band of 
politicians. Civil Servants and one or two army officers ? 
Had the Chief held any conferences with his Principal 
Staff Officers before issuing the order to evict the 
Chinese; or when he agreed to create a new corps? 
If he had, I am sure there would have been a hue 
and cry'. 

In September 1962, the advice of PSO’s was 
redundant once Government had taken the “decision” 
to throw out the Chinese. There was no time for them 



446 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


to take the necessary steps to implement this decision 
even if they had had the resources (which they did 
not have.) 

Every disaster produces its own crop of wits. 
I heard this funny story in 1963. One PSO is reported 
to have expressed surprise that “there was some sort 
of flap on in NEFA”. Apparently, he had gathered 
this information from his daily paper! This story could 
well be true judging by the way decisions to evict the 
Chinese were being taken, and the forward troops 
hustled in those black days in the history of Army HQ,. 



Chapter XXVII 


India’s Defence Ministers 1947/62 

What then went wrong in 1962? We cannot blame 
the organisational set-up for the Higher Direction of 
War. We had the right system. We had the talent. 
We had the brave soldiery without which there can be 
no victory in war. The blame lies in the ineffective 
incumbants who allowed the system to atrophy. Even 
before 1962, the Prime Minister and the Defence 
Minister appeared to take vital decisions on their own. 
Expert committees were ignored and expert advice 
not sought - and there was not a murmur from anyone. 
Persons holding high office were content to watch events 
helplessly, after futile efforts to “put up papers”. 

War is not a game for giant geniuses who rely on 
hunches. It is a game with many humble players, 
each contributing his mite to the over-all effort. No 
single individual however great or highly placed should 
ever again be allowed to dictate the National Policy, 
or be expected to carry the burden of implementing 
it on his own. 

How did the dominance of Nehru and Menon 
come about? The British system we had adopted did 
not envisage, the sort of ascewdewcy of one. or two persons 
over matters that affect the National interests. The 
erosion of the authority of the Armed Forces began 
soon after the attainment of freedom in 194-7. The 
Defence Ministry had been singularly unfortunate in 
its ministers and till Menon came none had the talent 
and ability to enforce a healthy working arrangement 
with the Prime Minister or to project the needs of the 
Armed Forces. The gradual ascendancy of Mr. Nehru, 
after the death of Sardar Patel in 1950, led to the 
down grading of the Ministry 75f Defence till it had little 



HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


voice in policy-making. The unhealthy practices started 
as early as the tenure of the first Indian Defence Minister, 
Sardar Baldev Singh. The pay-off was a long time 
a-comin’ but it did have to come; and it came on 20th 
October 1962. The era of “Papa knows best was 
shattered in a shower of shame and humihaUon. 

The first Indian Defence Minister was Sardar 
Baldev Singh, the Sikh leader of the pre-Partition talks 
with the British Government. He probably found a 
place in the Interim Cabinet of 1946 as » com S“ 
Sikh representative; he was later confirmed as Defence 
Minister in India’s first Cabinet probably because 
other senior Congressman wanted tins chair wine 
offered little scope for power and patronage Mr. , Nenru 

did not look beyond the Congress benches and by 

passed such eminent people as Mr. H. N. h-unzra 
had achieved some fame as a defence expert m pre 
Parution days. In any case, Sardar Balder Smghs 

talents did not merit the important Defence portMi. 

He was a wealthy man, easy-going and disliked .hand! Ig 
awkward or troublesome problems He unders . 
little about National Strategy and had not specialise 
defence subjects. He left everything to his Defence 
Secretary, Mr. H. M. Patel, an outstanding Indian 
Civil Service Officer of the old school. Mr. Pate 
a proud and ambitious man and was bent on cst< 
control in his oun hands. p 

Gen. K. M. Cariappa, the first Indian O-in- 
was an equally proud man; and the 
official clashes between them are now part of the m ) 
of the Defence Ministry. In the event, fndia s delcn , 
organisations got off to a bad and unheal > 
Sardar Baldev was fully aware of these differences but 
did nothing effective to iron them out. H e ^ 

devise fresh guide lines for the smooth funct , rra tion 
his ministry', nor did he draw a clear line of de ... 
between civil and military powers and rc *P ol J, 1 - 
He should have ordcred changes to fit in witli 



India’s defence ministers 1947/62 449 

constitutional changes. Much of the confusion, mis- 
trust, overlapping of responsibility and out-moded 
procedures had their genesis in those early days and 
had got unmanageable by September 1962. 1947 was 
not tile time for a Defence Minister to coast along with 
old, colonial and obsolete ways. Sharing the spoils of 
the authority bequeathed by the Viceroy and the 
British C-in-C could not be left to the civil servant and 
the soldier to sort out, as each would attempt to usurp 
a major share. Sardar Baldev Singh did not have the 
necessary background, force of character and essential 
harshness to provide forceful political leadership to 
effect the necessary changes and modifications. He 
did not have the personality to influence or restrain 
Mr. Nehru and gradually allowed himself and the 
Ministry of Defence to be overshadowed. The 
dominance of Cabinet proceedings by the Prime 
Minister began during his tenure. He was also not 
equipped to take long-term steps to visualise and 
anticipate the Chinese threat which started in his time, 
when China annexed Tibet in 1950. He was a good 
simple man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time of 
India’s defence history. 

Sardar Baldev Singh was succeeded by Mr. Gopala- 
swami Ayyangar, an ex-ICS officer, with a cold 
analytical, brilliant brain and unexcelled administrative 
experience. His tragic death after only a few months 
in the chair was an irreperable loss. He was well- 
equipped to organise a healthy working arrangement 
between the Civil Service and the Army. He would 
not have allowed himself to be over-awed by the famed 
ICS Cadre. 

Mr. Ayyangar’s permanent successor was Dr. Kai- 
lash Nath Katju, an old Congress war-horse. He was 
a Doctor of Law and practised with conspicuous success 
before joining the pre-war United Provinces (now 
Uttar Pradesh) Ministry as Minister of Jusice, Industries 
and Development in 1937. Thereafter, he had done 



450 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


his stint of “jail-going”. He was again appointed a 
minister in 1946. Later he was a member of the 
Constituent Assembly. In 1947, he was appointed 
Governor of Orissa and in 1948 Governor of I Vest 
Bengal. He became a Central Government minister 
in 1951 and was allotted the Home Affairs and Law 
portfolio, After Mr. Ayyangar’s sudden death, he 
was shifted over to Defence and remained there till 
1957. In January 1957, he was sent post-haste to be 
the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh to bale-out the 
strife-riven State Congress Party. 

His undoubted talents, ability and wide humanity 
were misplaced in Defence. His forte lay elsewhere. 
In 1952 he was 65 years old, tired and deaf when he 
assumed office. It was grossly unfair to expect him to 
master the intricacies of the Higher Direction of War. 
I say tills with no malice. Dr. Katju’s forensic ability 
and political skill were of immense value to newly- 
independent India, and he filled many liigh posts with 
distinction. But there was no valid reason for shifting 
him to Defence purely on the grounds of seniority or 
because Mr. Nehru continued to fill the key ministries 
with Congressmen only. Mr. Nehru himself held the 
Defence portfolio in addition to his many other posts 
during any inter-regnum while he searched for a per- 
manent incumbent. It was an injustice to an other- 
wise able man and fatal to the Armed Forces, at a 
time when vigorous lobbying was called for to match 
Pakistan and forestall China. Dr. Katju did nothing 
that was wrong but he also did nothing that was right. 
He merely completed an uneventful tenure. There was 
very little that he knew about Defence matters having 
spent most of his life in the domestic political spheres. 

Towards the end, he had become a standard 
politician who would not voluntarily retire. In 1962, 
at the age of 75, he still aspired to be the Chief Minister 
of Madhya Pradesh, but he was defeated in the General 
Elections of 1962. Although he was later returned in 



India’s defence ministers IJM7/G2 451 

a bye-election, he did not hold office again. In this 
respect, he was the typical Congressman. Although he 
had reaped a rich harvest for liis “sacrifices” in the 
Independence movement, he insisted on “serving the 
people” to the bitter end! 

Tlie Army skid to its lowest depths during his 
term. Nothing was initiated by him and everything 
was left to the ICS and the Army to sort out. All 
efforts to make a purposeful response to Pakistan’s 
rc-armamcnt floundered due to apathy and inertia. 
This then was the man on whom India relied to take 
suitable counter-measures to face Pakistan’s American- 
aided strike force, which began and was completed in 
his time. He was, the second misfit, at another critical 
juncture in India’s defence history. 

Mr. Maliavir Tyagi was associated with Defence 
for a number of years under various titles specially 
created for him. He was a well-known Congress heckler 
who had to be eventually silenced with some sort of 
ministerial appointment to protect ministers from being 
nettled and subjected to awkward questions. "What 
better place than the unimportant Ministry of Defence ? 
He too knew nothing about defence despite his boasts 
that he had served in the Army in World War I in some 
humble capacity. His most notable contributions were 
the introduction of khadi items in the Army (such as 
cottage industry blankets weighing a few pounds each) ; 
and his Hindi notings which no one could read. He 
loved to be surrounded by “his” generals, visit foreign 
countries on purchasing missions; and to address troops 
with senior officers in attendance. He gave the im- 
pression that he could not get over his good fortune in 
achieving such eminence. After an uneventful stint he 
was shunted out when Mr. Menon took over in 1957. 
After a few years in the wilderness during which he 
returned to his favourite pastime of prodding Congress 
ministers, he was rehabilitated in the Ministry of 
Rehabilitation ! 



452 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Mr. Tyagi was tlie third misfit. He held office' at 
a time when the Army had to be re-equipped and the 
old World War II weapons discarded. As Minister of 
Defence Production, this onerous duty fell on his 
shoulders. He did little to cither gear up domestic 
production or to influence the Cabinet to allot the 
necessary funds for purchases from abroad. ^Vhen lie 
left the equipment state of the Army was most un- 
satisfactory. 

* * * 

The reader will now appreciate the elation of the 
Army at the news of the appointment of Mr._V._K. 
Krishna Menon as the Defence Minister in 1957. Inc 
news coincided with the news of the appointment ot 
Gen. K. S. Thimayya as the new Chief. For the first 
time since Independence, we would have a brilliant, 
alert and powerful Defence Minister to work with _ an 
equally brilliant General. I was serving at Army HvJ. 
at the time and I can vouch for the thrill and exhilaration 
felt by all. Now the Army could hope to get things 
moving, and Mr. Nehru would get the truth about our 
weaknesses, and the dangers posed by Pakistan s in- 
creasing strength, from two men he respected and 
admired. Menon was on the threshold of his political 
career in India, in contrast with his predecessors wno 
were ineffective party men past their prime. Gen* 
Thimayya was the first Indian Chief with a military 
career which would stand comparison with Arm} 
Chiefs anywhere in the world. This team induced a 
feeling of great expectations which ^vcrc unfortunatcl) 
to be belied in the next five years. 

Menon was an international figure and had pla'jcjj 
a notable, if somewhat unspectacular, part in India 
struggle for independence. He had spent the bes* P? 9 
of his adult years in England i.c. from 192+ to i 
He was one of the few Indian politicians who was i 
tunc with Nehru, their fricndsliip and mutual admiratio 
dating back to the 1930’s. 



India’s defence ministers 1947/62 453 

• Menon had studied at the London School of 
Economics from where he had graduated with a B.Sc. 
Degree. He obtained his Master’s Degree from London 
University and his Doctorate of Laws from Glasgow 
University. He thus had an unimpeachable educational 
background as well as a sound foundation to inter- 
national problems, in marked contrast to the average 
Congressman’s narrow’ and limited outlook. 

In 1929 Menon took over the moribund India 
League and transformed it into one of the most effective 
lobbies in English history. He served •without pay and 
often had to pay bills from liis own limited and casual 
income. He Jived abstemiously and sometimes on the 
verge of poverty in the poor district of Camden Town 
in London. He entered British politics and had aspira- 
tions of becoming a Labour Member of Parliament. 

Menon. made a notable contribution to India’s 
cause from England, enlisting the sympathy and under- 
standing of powerful and influential men in the British 
socialist movement like Mr. Harold Laski and Bertrand 
Russell. He is entitled to a great deal of credit for his 
work in pre-Independence days. His spadework helped 
to convince the Labour leaders of the justice of India’s 
cause. Unfortunately, his long absence abroad made 
him lose touch with the Indian people and India’s 
leaders. 

Menon worked briefly with a British publishing 
house and was thus able to act as Mr. Nehru’s literary 
agent thereby earning the gratitude of India’s future 
Prime Minister. J-Tehru and Menon had toured the 
Spanish battlefields during the Civil War, in 1938, and 
had found much in common. Nehru was delighted to 
find someone who differed from his conservative 
Congress colleagues. Both believed that each had the 
necessary radical socialist approach to the solution of 
the gigantic economic problems of India. Both men 
had at that time faith in Fabian Socialist doctrines. 
Both were mentally foreigners in contrast to the average 



454 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


grass-roots, parochial Congressman; and both were 
impatient with the established order in India. 

Soon after Independence, Nehru appointed Menon 
High Comissioner in the United Kingdom to project 
the image of free India; as well as to reward an old 
friend. Menon had then travelled a long way from 
Camden Town to the Court of St. James. His long 
stay in England was at once an advantage and a dis- 
advantage but we are not concerned with his achieve- 
ments as a High Commissioner. He survived a few 
crises arising out of alleged indiscretions in the procure- 
ment of military stores, the most notable being with 
regard to the purchase of jeeps for the Army. This 
particular incident was the subject of bitter acrimony in 
Parliament and the matter was also the subject of adverse 
comments from the Public Accounts Committee of 
Parliament. A lesser mortal who did not command the 
patronage of the Prime Minister might well have blighted 
his future. The Committee had noted that: “It is not 
possible to hold that the lapses were merely procedural 
or due to defects in the rules”. 

In 1957, with his reputation providentially un- 
tarnished, his political stock was at its zenith. After 
his tenure as High Commissioner, he was appointed jhe 
Deputy Chief of the Indian Delegation to the United 
Nations, thus enabling him to enter the international 
arena and take an active part in world debates and 
problems of the troubled fifties. India’s contribution 
was then material and this gave Menon many oppor- 
tunities. Mr. A. M. Rosenthal of the New York Times 
said at the time: “Menon made a name for himself 
but lost it for his country”. The peak of his inter- 
national standing was reached during the negotiations 
which preceded the 1954 Geneva Conference winch 
was expected to settle the Indo-China problem. 

He was the only man in Nehru’s orbit who under- 
stood world politics and who could present Indias 
non-aligned viewpoint. By the mid-fifties, Nehru had 


India’s defence ministers 1947/62 4-55 

parted company with most of his pre-Independence 
colleagues with any independence of mind. Mr. Ram 
Manohar Lohia had been the Congress Party’s shadow 
foreign minister in pre-war days and much was expected 
from this able man. He fell out with Nehru and in his 
last years became a bitter critic of Nehru’s policies. 

Menon gave many virtuoso performances in UN 
debates, especially when defending India’s Kashmir 
policy. He was greatly loved and admired by the 
literate people of India who got a vicarious thrill when 
they read of the verbal lambastings which he heaped 
on the Anglo-Saxons. He won many verbal duels but 
he did not succeed in convincing the majority of India’s 
case; in fact it has been said that he hardened the views 
of many against India by his unnecessarily brusque 
manner. 

His critics harp on his apparently contradictory 
stands during the Hungarian and Suez episodes of 
October-November 1956. 

The exposure to international affairs did not give 
him the necessary suavity and urbanity so essential in 
a diplomat. It is a matter of regret that his personality 
and methods had an abrasive effect on Western 
diplomats. His overbearing manner did little to endear 
him to his political critics or advance the cause of his 
country. 

I have dwelt at some length on Menon’s back- 
ground prior to 1957 as this has a material bearing on 
hh performance as Defence Minister. The first 
point is that Menon got permanently involved in India’s 
foreign affairs and became de-facto Deputy Foreign 
Minister, often to the detriment of his primary duties. 
The second result was that he became a confidant of 
Nehru and wielded more influence on India’s policy 
than would have been the case if he was an ordinary 
man, say like Dr. Katju, In the process, he got his 
two portfolios mixed up, and he could not differentiate 
between his duties as Defence Minister and his role as 



456 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


unofficial foreign policy adviser. The last adverse 
effect was on his personal behaviour. Having got 
away with being rude and overbearing to the 
diplomats and newspapermen of the world, he was 
unlikely to show any restraint with ordinary generals 
and civil servants in India. He was to become in- 
sufferable. 

Even Ills best friends do not really know his 
political affiliations. He has been variously described 
as Leftist, Socialist and even Communist. He certainly 
attracts followers of leftist leanings and was considered 
to be the leading Left leader of the Cabinet, before his 
downfall . It is also a fact that during the 1962 Elections, 
he was backed and actively helped by the Communist 
Party which even forsook its leader, Mr. Dange, who 
lost from another constituency in Greater Bombay. It 
is also a fact that he has an unreasonable and out- 
dated phobia against the Private Sector of Industry 
in India. However, sensing the contradictions and 
struggles within the Congress Party, he submitted 
loyally to the mild brand of Congress socialism, which 
has so far defied any definition. He carried out his 
ideological fights within the inner councils of the 
Congress High Command and by using his personal 
influence with Nehru. 

He had many enemies both within and outside the 
Congress, inspired by powerful business interests. All 
but a few members of parliament hated or feared him. 
Menon was in the line of succession to Neliru and 
vested interests wanted to eliminate him before he 
reached the top. To senior Congressmen, he was a 
threat to their own prospects and they resented his 
close personal relationship with Nehru. Some thought 
that Mr. Nehru meticulously avoided giving any in* 
dication of his preference for a successor, or thwarted 
attempts by Mr. Desai, merely to give Menon time and 
a chance to build up a following in the countty- 
Initially Mcnon's political advancement and indeed 



India’s defence ministers is*7/g2 457 

survival depended on Nehru’s patronage. Nehru in- 
variably backed him against his other Cabinet colleagues. 
Later Menon did acquire personal stature as a result 
of his thumping electoral victory in 1962, in a bitterly 
contested fight against a powerful coalition of the Right, 
and against the redoubtable Acharya Kripalani. He 
became even more ambitious, ruthless and insufferable. 
Throughout his career as a Minister, he never practised 
tlie virtue of humility. In his moment of humiliation, 
when Mr. Nehru was forced to sack liim, he was 
friendless. He left unsung and unmourned; his achieve- 
ments forgotten. 

The appointment of tliis able confidant of 
Mr. Nehru was hailed as a harbinger of greater defence 
awareness in the Cabinet. It was hoped that the stale- 
mate in the functioning of the Military of Defence and 
Finance would be broken. It was also hoped that our 
defence preparations would be dove-tailed with our 
foreign policy and bear a reasonable relation to our 
commitments. 

There was some speculation as to why Defence 
was being honoured by the appointment of such a high 
powered minister. Surely Menon’s forte was foreign 
affairs. After the Elections of 1957, many thought 
that Mr. Nehru would shed this portfolio to concentrate 
on the larger issues facing the country. The routine 
affairs of a ministry were unnecessary and burdensome 
to a busy and ageing Prime Minister. Many theories 
were advanced. The most charitable interpretation 
was that Mr. Nehru was at last beginning to appreciate 
the mortal danger from a hostile, revengeful and well- 
armed Pakistan. It will be recalled that Pakistan was 
expected to be ready with her new-look Army and Air 
Force by about June 1957. The United States may 
not be able to restrain her from attempting a military 
adventure in Kashmir. China had occupied thousands 
of square miles of Indian territory in Ladakh and had 
laid claim to NEFA. Nehru was aware of this and 



458 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


was said to have had serious doubts of whether friendship 
alone would suffice to fend off an expansionist neighbour, 
and had decided to get his powder dry. Therefore, 
Defence would require one of his ablest colleagues. 

The uncharitable view was that Menon was 
recalled to India and made Defence Minister to act as 
a counterpoise to Gen. K. S. Thimayya who was due to 
take over from Gen. S. M. Shrinagesh in March 1957. 
There had been a spate of military coups in neighbouring 
countries and Nehru did not want to risk being shunted 
to the side-line and treated as a benevolent elder. His 
fears were not entirely unfounded as we know what 
happened to other Afro-Asian leaders who were virtually 
worshipped by their peoples. 

In any case, with his experience and ability, 
Menon would have had to be accommodated in a 
senior Cabinet post. The Home Ministry would have 
found him out of his depth as he was out of touch with 
domestic politics. Moreover he was unknown to, and 
possibly unacceptable to, some powerful State Chief 
Ministers, without whose tacit approval Menon would 
have been stymied. The Home portfolio is a coveted 
one and is sought after by senior Congressmen as it 
represents real political power. It is also a useful base 
for expanding the incumbent’s political stature and 
prospects by a judicious blend of fear and favour. 
Menon was a tyro in the Congress hierarchy and was 
therefore ineligible for this chair. 

Since Mr. Nehru would not give up the External 
Affairs Ministry, the choice lay between Finance and 
Defence. Mr. Moraiji Desai coveted the Finance 
portfolio to control the purse-strings of the Nation. Ity s 
possible therefore that Mr. Nehru appointed Menon in 
all innocence and for the good of the country. Little 
did he realise that the Ministry of Defence would be 
the most controversial organisation of Government 
generating heat at every' turn and polarising the Nation 
into pro-Men on and anti-Menon forces. In the dcbns, 



India’s defence ministers 1947/62 459 

the Armed Forces suffered till they were subjected to a 
humiliating defeat by the Chinese in 1962. 

Mr. Menon was a complete failure as Defence 
Minister despite Ills abundant talents. He was a 
victim of his own brilliance and over-confidence. He 
brought to Defence ideas, theories and methods which 
were inappropriate to this office and caused liis own 
downfall. 

At the politico-strategic level, it can be said that 
he failed to appreciate the Chinese threat in its true 
dimensions. He was always harping on the Pakistani 
threat as being the major one, and for this reason he 
was complacent about the equipment of the Forces 
which he had deployed in the Himalayas, till it was too 
late. Despite mounting and irrefutable evidence of 
China’s aggressive intentions, he lulled the Nation into 
a false sense of confidence and security. In the im- 
mediate pre-1962 period, he made nebulous and some- 
times contradictory statements which sowed the seeds 
of doubt in the minds of the public and perhaps the 
Army as well. 

On 10th January 1960, Mr. Menon said at Tezpur 
(Assam): “The India-China border dispute was not 
of such magnitude as could precipitate war”. Tezpur 
was the HQ, of the local military command in charge 
of NEFA and was about the worst place in the world 
to propound such a theory. It did incalculable harm 
and created a phoney-war atmosphere. 

On 18th January I960, Menon said: “While nobody 
could say what would happen, in a conflict of physical 
forces, it is reasonable to suppose that another square 
inch of our territory will not be occupied by anybody”. 
Perhaps this pronouncement was a reaction to the 
statement he had made a few days earlier at Bangalore 
when he had said : “No Army can protect the Hima- 
layan heights”. The Indian border in NEFA runs 
along the Himalayan watershed i.e. along the Himalayan 
heights. Thus in two days he made two diametrically 



460 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


opposite statements. This sort of ambivalence was not 
calculated to produce clear thinking and resolute action 
from the Army. 

His personal traits had a material bearing on the 
functioning of India’s defence apparatus. His brilliant 
brain, acid wit and extraordinary memory were negatived 
by his conceit, arrogance, vanity and his inability to 
suffer whomsoever he chose to consider a fool. He was 
extremely rude in his personal behaviour -a failing 
which is fatal in a politician or diplomat and disastrous 
in a Defence Minister who has to deal with proud and 
successful men who have reached the top on their own 
merits. Such conduct is even more reprehensible 
since these senior Officers cannot fight back due to the 
shackles of Service protocol and their own code of 
conduct. His rudeness and arrogance antagonised his 
professional advisers and made a mockery of the com- 
mittee system which is the bed-rock of the democratic 
system. In some cases, there was, an unbridgeable 
chasm which precluded free and frank discussions and 
the evolution of joint solutions. He was recently 
(November 1967) quoted as saying: “Of course neither 
the Army nor the Civil Service is a mere office-boy 
running up and down”. It is most unfortunate for 
India’s destiny that he did not adhere to this belief 
when he held high office. By eliminating or attempting 
to eliminate tough generals and choosing tractable ones, 
he reduced key commanders to the role of office boys, 
as wc have seen in the story of Thagla. Senior generals 
were forced to justify the issue of impossible and im- 
practicable orders on the grounds that they themselves 
had received orders from “the highest level”. Menon 
is reported to have once told Gen. Thapar that Service 
Chiefs could not be expected to understand everything 
that he was doing as Defence Minister, but they need 
not worry as it was all for the best! 

With his arrogance and near-contempt of senior 
officers (of which Gen. Kaul recounts numerous un- 



ixdia’s defence ministers raw/e 461 

happy instances), Menon began to depend on his 
chosen coterie of advisers and his own judgment. He 
by-passed the duly constituted committees of the 
Government and the Sendee Chiefs. He handled 
border disputes, the Naga problem and ultimately the 
XEFA crisis on his own, till it was too late to reverse 
the trend of events. Some of his civil advisers became 
“defence experts” and military' tacticians as a result of 
sitting in on discussions about handling border disputes. 
They became experts in moving infantry platoons and 
companies. "When a military argument was adduced 
to suggest a different course, they would use the solid 
sledge-hammer of “political necessity” or “Government 
has decided”, to force the Army to be embroiled at a 
disadvantage. In September 1962, it was difficult to 
resist or refuse to obey orders which were clearly 
impracticable and unwise. The natural sense of duty 
and discipline of the officer corps was mistaken for 
servility and weakness. For politicians who had spent 
the best part of their lives in humble circumstances 
and even obscurity, political supremacy' was a heady 
wine. 

Despite his outward image of bluster and fearless- 
ness, Menon was unable or unwilling to face up to 
Mr. Nehru whom he feared or wished to placate at all 
costs, to safeguard his position. He must have realised 
that he owed everything to Nehru for his exalted place 
in Indian politics. This may' be one of the reasons 
why he did not bring his differences with Mr. Desai 
to the surface and face an open debate with Air. Nehru 
and the other members of the Defence Committee of 
the Cabinet as referees. It may' also explain the 
allegation that he was forced to go along with Nehru 
and Kaul, against his own judgment, when they 
decided to adopt the Forward Policy*. Possibly he was 
not strong enough to stave off accusations of being 
pro Communist if he did not agree to some counter- 
measures against the Chinese intrusions and provo- 
cations. 



India’s defence ministers 1947/62 


463 


initiative and expansion. He was therefore a foil to 
Menon and Nehru’s brand of socialism and faith in the 
public ownership of most new heavy industrial projects. 
Desai is considered to be a good administrator having 
served in Bombay’s Provincial Civil Sendee at one time 
and by virtue of his executive experience from 1937. 

As the leading spokesman for the Congress Right, 
Mr. Desai has always considered himself to be a potential 
prime minister. In 1961, he made a bid to have 
himself elected the Deputy Leader of the Congress 
Parliamentary Party but was forestalled by Nehru. 
Desai was opposed by Menon and his allies who backed 
Mr. Jagjivan Ram on the basis of the latter’s seniority 
in the Cabinet, as he had been a minister since 1947. 
Mr. Nehru, the consummate politician, changed the 
Congress constitution and provided for two deputy 
leaders. This was a major reverse for Desai. In early 
1962, after the General Elections, Menon is alleged to 
have tried to get Desai removed as Finance Minister 
and bring back Mr. Krishnamachari. Desai refused 
to leave Finance for any other post. 

Mr. Desai is quoted as saying that Menon was a 
rootless anarchist who could just as well be extreme 
Right as extreme Left. He is also reported to have 
characterised Menon as a “political non-entity with 
no following of his own and no ability to attract 
one”. 

. When Menon’s career was blighted by the Chinese 
invasion, Desai’s stock rose correspondingly and he 
became the most likely contender for Mr. Nehru’s 
throne. Sensing this, Air. Nehru Kamaraj-ed him in 
August 1963 as by then Nehru was too feeble and dis- 
illusioned to stand up to internal Cabinet rifts. Desai 
remained in the wilderness, making an abortive move 
to succeed Mr. Shastri in 1966, and staging his come- 
back as Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister 
after the General Elections of 1967. His lode-star 
remains the Prime Ministership of India. 



India’s defence ministers 1947/G2 


465 


was used by the American Air Force to supply our 
battered Ladakh Garrisons, after the Chinese with- 
drawal. Despite ordering the Army to be deployed 
along the Indo-Tibetan Border, Mcnon could never 
provide the required number of aircraft and supply 
dropping equipment. The Air Force could never 
meet the minimum tonnages of the Army and the Border 
Roads Organisation. 

Mcnon has since claimed that he made every' 
available rupee go as far as it could. He asserts that 
“The Army was better in 1962 than in 1957. If it was 
not any more capable than it was, the shortcomings 
were related to the resources of the country and also 
the position inside the country and the Government”. 
How does he explain the purchase of an out-dated 
Aircraft Carrier for the Navy and the concentradon of 
effort on producing tanks and aircraft while starving 
the Infantry of basic weapons and equipment ? This 
was a serious error of judgment and showed poor notions 
of the correct priorities. In September 1962, we had 
no automatic rifle and no suitable Artillery' or Infantry 
mortar. We had no animals and no helicopters. Our 
World War II mortar was out-ranged by the Chinese 
Infantry mortar — an outrageous state of affairs. The 
Army had frequently represented the need for replacing 
our obsolete weapons but our pleas were ignored. 

Let me prove this point by r recalling the vexed 
question of providing the Army with a modern automatic 
rifle. Every Army Officer appreciated the need for 
replacing the 1904 Model British Lee-Enfield Rifle. 
Various proposals for purchasing these were turned 
down. This subject found a place in the agenda of 
every Infantry Commanders* Conference and the 
professional organ of the Basic Arm, The Infantry Journal. 
It is doubtful whether Menon or his civilian “military 
experts” ever considered it necessary to glance through 
any professional publications. At that time The 
Infantry Journal was edited by Lt.-Col. (then Major) 



466 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


G. L. Proudfoot, an able and forthright military 
writer. Two editorials of the time are worth quoting 
verbatim : 

Vol X , October 1959 , No. 2, Page 4. “ The Self- 
loading Rifle. 

“Whilst the modernisation of the Air Force and 
the Navy are without doubt of the utmost importance 
to the country’s security, it is hard for the Infantryman 
who, on and off since Independence, has been con- 
tinually and actively engaged in border defence and 
internal security duties, to understand why he is still 
armed with the bolt loading rifle of World War I which 
has long since become a museum piece in most modem 
armies. In the type of defensive war this country may 
be called upon to wage, the brunt of the fighting will 
unquestionably be borne by the Infantry, and. it will 
be grossly unfair to ask them to match their antiquated 
rifles against automatic weapons in a type of warfare 
which will be fought and decided principally by ground 
troops”. 

The Infantry Journal returned to the attack after 
the clashes of 1959 to which we have referred in this 
narrative, and which brought urgency to the problem. 
In Vol. XI, April 1960, No. I, Page 2, the editorial 
said: 

“The recent Chinese incursions across our Northern 
borders and their possible future implications have 
suddenly stirred the Nation into a greater awareness 
of the importance of the country’s Armed Forces, an 
awareness which tends to be absent in nations which 
maintain strictly professional armies as against those in 
which conscription exists; and this is but natural, since 
nobody thinks of the doctor when there is no illness 
about. What is urgently required in the present 
contingency in addition to our present weapons, is a 
significant increase in automatic weapons strength of 
the Infantry Battalion ■with special reference to a self- 
loading rifle. We have stressed this point in the last 



India’s defence ministers 1947/62 467 

issue of The Infantry Journal and are in duty bound to 
reiterate it, lest we be accused by posterity of having allowed 
our case to go by default. For it should be clearly apparent 
to all that any war into which this country is likely to 
be forced will be a limited war fought principally by 
ground troops and in the kind of fighting that is 
envisaged, the full weight of heavy weapons support 
that will be denied to the Infantry by extreme difficulties 
of terrain, can only be compensated by an increased 
volume of small arms automatic fire”. 

I hope that the Corps of Infantry, to which I had 
the honour to belong throughout my Army career, will 
be vindicated, and that posterity will lay the blame at 
the correct door-step. Let Mr. Menon and his defence 
and financial pundits not say that they were misled by 
the Army as a whole. Had Mr. Menon taken some 
time off to read military journals, or to meet officers 
who were manning the borders, he might have been 
more enlightened as to his duties and he would have 
got his priorities right. The country would have been 
in better shape if he had concentrated on defence 
matters instead of reading External Affairs files on 
international problems, and UN affairs for his secondary 
role as India’s Ambassador-at-large. 

Mr. Menon’s duty was crystal clear. He was 
bound to obtain all the funds needed to implement the 
National Aims or to insist on having the National Aims 
recast to suit our modest means. He should not have 
misled the country about our preparations or mouthed 
brave words like “not giving up an inch of territory” 
or making an impact on the Chinese, or evicting the 
Chinese from Thagla; or putting up a brave front by 
sending troops to the Bhutan border (Tsangle) for the 
benefit of the doubting Bhutanese. 

Prior to the showdown of September 1962, he 
indulged his craze for personal publicity and availed of 
every opportunity to project his image to the Indian 
public, to whom he was largely unknown and with 



466 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


G. L. Proudfoot, an able and forthright military 
writer. Two editorials of the time are worth quoting 
verbatim: 

Vol. X y October 1959 , M. 2 , Page 4. “ The Self- 
loading Rifle. 

“Whilst the modernisation of the Air Force and 
the Navy are without doubt of the utmost importance 
to the country’s security, it is hard for the Infantryman 
who, on and off since Independence, has been con- 
tinually and actively engaged in border defence and 
internal security duties, to understand why he is still 
armed with the bolt loading rifle of "World War I which 
has long since become a museum piece in most modem 
armies. In the type of defensive war this country may 
be called upon to wage, the brunt of the fighting will 
unquestionably be borne by the Infantry, and it will 
be grossly unfair to ask them to match their antiquated 
rifles against automatic weapons in a type of warfare 
which will be fought and decided principally by ground 
troops”. 

The Infantry Journal returned to the attack after 
the clashes of 1959 to which Vve have referred in this 
narrative, and which brought urgency to the problem. 
In Vol. XI, April 1960, No. I, Page 2, the editorial 
said: 

“The recent Chinese incursions across our Northern 
borders and their possible future implications have 
suddenly stirred the Nation into a greater awareness 
of the importance of the country’s Armed Forces, an 
awareness which tends to be absent in nations which 
maintain strictly professional armies as against those in 
which conscription exists; and this is but natural, since 
nobody thinks of the doctor when there is no illness 
about. What is urgently required in the present 
contingency in addition to our present weapons, is a 
significant increase in automatic weapons strength of 
the Infantry Battalion with special reference to a self- 
loading rifle. We have stressed this point in the last 



India’s defence ministers 1947/62 


467 


issue of The Infantry Journal and are in duty bound to 
reiterate it, lest we be accused by posterity of having allowed 
our case to go by default. For it should be clearly apparent 
to all that any war into which this country is likely to 
be forced will be a limited war fought principally by 
ground troops and in the kind of fighting that is 
envisaged, the full weight of heavy weapons support 
that will be denied to the Infantry by extreme difficulties 
of terrain, can only be compensated by an increased 
volume of small arms automatic fire”. 

I hope that the Corps of Infantry, to which I had 
the honour to belong throughout my Army career, will 
be vindicated, and that posterity will lay the blame at 
the correct door-step. Let Mr. Menon and his defence 
and financial pundits not say that they were misled by 
the Army as a whole. Had Mr. Menon taken some 
time off to read military journals, or to meet officers 
who were manning the borders, he might have been 
more enlightened as to his duties and he would have 
got his priorities right. The country would have been 
in better shape if he had concentrated on defence 
matters instead of reading External Affairs files on 
international problems, and UN affairs for his secondary 
role as India’s Ambassador-at-large. 

Mr. Menon’s duty was crystal clear. He was 
bound to obtain all the funds needed to implement the 
National Aims or to insist on having the National Aims 
recast to suit our modest means. He should not have 
misled the country about our preparations or mouthed 
brave words like “not giving up an inch of territory” 
or making an impact on the Chinese, or evicting the 
Chinese from Thagla; or putting up a brave front by 
sending troops to the Bhutan border (Ts angle) for the 
benefit of the doubting Bhutanese. 

Prior to the showdown of September 1962, he 
indulged his craze for personal publicity and availed of 
every opportunity to project his image to the Indian 
public, to whom he was largely unknown and with 



468 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


whom he could not readily communicate in any Indian 
tongue. There was seldom a day without Mcnon 
being iif the news. To achieve this, he accepted any 
and every invitation - official, social or personal. Some 
of his projects and ideas were publicised more to glorify 
him than to be of any use in the impending war with 
China. He loved being photographed opening border 
roads in a remote area or landing in Ladakh wearing 
an oxygen mask. He raised and created a large research 
and development organisation to produce weapons and 
equipment indigenously. As a long term measure, 
this was a laudable idea, but was untenable in the 
context of the imminent Chinese threat. Perhaps he 
never really believed that the Chinese would actually 
attack in force. Who knows? 

Gen. Kaul has revealed that Gen. Thapar and he 
had put up the shortages and the urgent requirements 
of the Army to Government but Menon did not even 
bother to reply to these communications. If true, and 
we have no grounds to disbelieve this forthright assertion, 
Menon must accept the blame for the Army’s shortages. 
The years of neglect could not be put right in one 
month, after the Chinese had intruded in strength and 
were bent on war. It was sad to hear Gen. Kaul telling 
me that “Government had greed to purchase and fly 
out 6,000 sets of snow clothing from Canada” at a 
time when men were dying of the severe cold. ^Vhere 
did the foreign exchange suddenly come from? _Why 
were these vital items not available in stock? Did the 
Army General Staff miscalculate the requirements? 
Or did Mr. Menon hope to produce these in his 
factories ? Or did Mr. Desai deny the foreign exchange 
just to “fix” Menon? "Who was the mystic “Govern- 
ment” who needed actual deaths to make it relent and 
accord “administrative and financial sanction”? 

No amount of white-washing can absolve Menon 
of his direct contribution to the failure of 1962. He 
was a dominant personality and had free access to 



India’s defence ministers 1947/62 


469 


Nehru. He did not do enough to prepare the Army 
for a major showdown with the Chinese and therefore 
must be allotted the major portion of the blame. If his 
military advisers failed him, then the blame is still his 
as he selected them himself. 

Despite his immense prestige and acumen, 
Mr. Menon did not evolve a smooth running apparatus 
at the Ministry- Army HQ. level. There were acri- 
monious debates in Parliament about his alleged 
interference in Army promotions. It has been said that 
he sometimes exceeded his authority in the matter of 
appointments, creating jobs and upgrading the appoint- 
ments of his favourites. His critics say that he sought 
to create a personal following in the Armed Forces. 

After allowing for the inevitable exaggeration in 
such matters, it is undoubtedly true that there was a 
good deal of ill-feeling in the Army. Every subaltern 
knew that there were rifts and rivalries among the top 
generals and an altogether unhealthy atmosphere pre- 
vailed. Menon succeeded in pushing out a number of 
senior officers who were supposed to have resisted his 
dictation or disagreed with his handling of the China 
problem. He is accused of promoting Kaul against the 
bitter opposition of the older generals. The appoint- 
ment of Rear-Admiral B. S. Soman to Naval Chief 
caused a rumpus and Rear-Admiral A. Chakravarti 
resigned as he felt that his seniority and greater sea 
experience, had been ignored. 

Unquestionably the most unsavoury episode during 
Menon’s tenure was the attempted plot to arraign 
Major-General (now Lt.-Gen.) S. H. F. J. Manekshaw 
with Menon’s approval and with the help of Gen. Kaul. 
There was a persistent rumour in the Army that some 
officers were influenced to “bring up trumped-up 
accusations” against Gen. Manekshaw after his pro- 
motion to Lt.-Gen. had been announced but not yet 
scaled, with an appointment. The Army was horrified 
at this naked attempt to eliminate one of the best 



470 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


officers of the Army. Apart from his military reputa- 
tion, Manekshaw had been Commandant of the Infantry 
School as well as the Staff College and so was personally 
known to thousands of officers. In the end a Court of 
Inquiry composed of three generals of high integrity and 
commendable force of character dismissed the charges 
and recommended that those who gave evidence be 
asked to answer for their conduct. India was lucky 
that one of her ablest generals was saved to help 
rehabilitate the Army after the fiasco of 1962, and 
unless fate intervenes Gen. Manekshaw should be the 
next Chief of the Indian Army. 

To round off Menon’s role in the Sino-Indian War 
of 1962, it is necessary to study his methods and 
behaviour during the crisis-ridden days of September- 
October 1962. 

On 8th September 1962, when Menon was first 
informed of the Chinese incursion into the Thagla 
Ridge area, he was inclined to dismiss the affair as just 
another border incident. He tried to handle the 
situation on his own assisted by the usual ad hoc set-up 
of assorted officials. Day to day decisions were taken 
based on inadequate or doctored information and this 
procedure replaced overall Government policy. Despite 
the absence of Mr. Nehru and Mr. Desai, decisions which 
could involve the nation in an all-out war were taken 
by a small group of officials. Had Menon given some 
sober thought to the politico-military consequences of 
his earlier rashness in demanding the eviction of the 
Chinese, he may have saved his political future and 
India’s reputation. He preferred to ignore the in- 
alterable factors of geography, terrain, time and space 
and the relative build-up of the two forces, at a place 
and time chosen by the Chinese. To him the Thagla 
incident was just another border incident At one 
stage, he left for New York as planned. This was an 
unbelievably casual approach to a situation that could 
explode into war. 



India’s defence ministers 1947/62 471 

Mr. Menon held the centre of the stage throughout. 
His main war -like activity was his penchant for holding 
frequent conferences in his Delhi office or at the “Held 
HQ” at Tezpur. Mr. Menon became a sort of field 
commander and was reported to be holding regular 
briefing conferences and being informed of the latest 
moves and dispositions. This is not the constitutional 
duty of a Defence Minister. By all means, a Minister 
should be kept informed of what is happening, but the 
level must be appropriate to his position. His job was 
to formulate Government policy with the help of his 
Service Advisers and communicate formal orders to 
the Army Chief. He did not formulate any overall 
policy and he did not give any formal orders. He did 
not allow any minutes to be kept of his numerous 
conferences. As late as 17th October when the military 
situation was unfavourable for a tough posture, and he 
well knew the weaknesses of the Army, he kept harping 
on “political necessity”. 

Eventually, he came to be known as the “highest 
level”, a mysterious title that emasculated most of the 
Army Brass. Menon has since been accused of ordering 
the moves of troops and ignoring military advice. He 
has used a variety of alibis. Sometimes he blames 
pressure of public opinion and would have us believe 
that he was but an emissary of the street mobs or their 
senior cheer leaders. At other times, he trumpets 
loudly (as in the NEFA debate in August-September 
1963); “It has hacn said tha other day that political 
decisions have been taken to resist the Chinese in 
NEFA. I beg with great respect to you Mr. Deputy 
Speaker, and to the House, to ask who else could make 
a decision to fight against a country except those who 
can make political decisions . . . and for myself and 
I feel the Government wall make no apologies for the 
assertion of civilian control over the Army”. Apparently 
in Mr. Menon’s vocabulary a mob or something called 
“public opinion” can also make political decisions 
which can humiliate the nation. 



472 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Menon has made other ringing assertions. He 
disclaims that he or Government “Ever told the 
operational commanders what positions they should 
take, what formations they should have, what military' 
moves they should make. ...” On the positive side, 
he has said “Whether we should defend a particular 
area, whether we should repel the Chinese invasion of 
our territories are political decisions, and on political 
issues Government must decide. ...” He concludes 
emphatically: “. . . entirely wrong to say we took 
anything but political decisions. ...” 

These words are unexceptional. It is a pity that 
Menon did not enlighten the House about his definition 
of political decisions; how they are arrived at; and how 
civilian control is exercised in a working democracy. 

This narrative brings out many decisions which 
have been attributed to him, or for which he shares 
responsibility as the Defence Minister. He decided 
to challenge the Chinese intrusion and insisted on a 
speedy eviction of the Chinese intruders. He hustled 
the Army Command and forced unwise tactical de- 
cisions. He insisted that there would be no further 
violation of Indian territory. He de-facto dictated the 
disposition of troops. By agreeing to the D-Day of 
10th October 1962 (as claimed by Kaul), he forced 
Kaul to plan operations with the only troops available 
viz. 7 Infantry Brigade, whatever the professional 
assessment of “troops to tasks” appreciated by the local 
cmnmandexs. 

To repel the Chinese invasion is admittedly a 
political decision; but can any responsible person claim 
that the issue of impossible tasks should be condoned 
purely on the grounds that the politician has a right to 
issue political decisions? Mr. Menon would have been 
on firmer ground had he anticipated and prepared for 
the final die-hard stand which he was forced to adopt 
in the face of a vocal public opinion. Does he wash 



India’s defence ministers I&47/62 473 

us to believe that the whims, future or fortunes of 
politicians can override hard military facts and the 
advice and judgment of experts? The due processes 
of planning at all levels cannot be ignored; and no 
Defence Minister however exalted can be equated with 
the entire Cabinet and the chain of civil authority viz. 
Parliament, the Cabinet and the Sendee Chiefs. Some 
of his political decisions will not stand the scrutiny 
of time. 

Mr. Menon would have been more credible if 
he had told us what the National Aim was and what 
steps he took to ensure that the Army was prepared 
to implement this Aim. Mr. Menon and the Cabinet 
are admittedly the proper authorities to take political 
decisions at this primary' stage -indeed this is their 
constitutional duty. It is wrong to classify panicky 
ad-hoc conferences as exercising civil control; the issue 
of casual random orders is even more reprehensible. 

The truth was told when, in his moment of agony, 
Menon said: “We have been outnumbered and out- 
weaponed”. This phrase concedes the ineffectiveness 
of the policy-makers of the nation. 

The Indian people have given their verdict. 
Menon continues to live in the wilderness despite the 
sad lack of talent in the Congress Party. His silence, 
which his friends label as a virtue, is his own indictment. 
Who was it who said, 3,000 years ago “When he is 
silent he shouts”? One noted Indian political com- 
mentator has this to say about Menon’s silence: 

. . nor is Mr. Menon ever unready to take up a 
polemical challenge and give back in vituperation more 
than what he receives, but he has been discreetly 
silent”. Is it any wonder? 

Menon remained a Member of Parliament for his 
full term and occasionally reminded the Indian public 
of liis existence but he no longer exercised power, 
although the _ Leftist Press played up his occasional 
breakfast sessions with Mr. Nehru. Over the years 



474 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


I am sure he must remember Acharya Kripalani’s 
classic indictment. On 11th April 1962 the veteran 
Indian statesman had this to say: “I charge him with 
wasting the money of a poor and starving nation. 
I charge him with having created cliques in the Army. 
I charge him with having lowered die morale of the 
Armed Forces. I charge him with the neglect of the 
defences of the country against the aggression of Com- 
munist China. ...” These majestic and prophetic 
words reflect the views of the vast majority of the people 
who suffered the great sense of humiliation at the 
summary chastisement meted out to India by China. 

The price paid in 1962 was by all counts a 
heavy one, but it was worth it, as a defeat at the hands 
of Pakistan in 1965 would have been a frightful catas- 
trophy for India. Sooner or later India had to learn 
that its security and honour are not matters which can 
be left to one or two brilliant people, even when they 
are of the calibre of Nehru and Menon. These serious 
/natters are the concern of the People, the Press, Parlia- 
ment, the Cabinet, the Civil Servant, the Defence 
Services and all Government agencies. Co-ordination 
is the responsibility of the Minister of Defence, with 
the accent on co-ordination. There is no room for 
domination. 

I hope that by understanding the machinery for 
the evolution of the National Policy and its implementa- 
tion in war, the People will keep a watching brief on 
Government and will see through the sort of opiate that 
was dished out in the years preceding the Chinese 
attack. 

The lessons of 1962 were well learnt. In August 
1965, ^ Pakistan launched a well-planned and well- 
organised guerilla movement against the Indian State 
of Jammu and Kashmir. Regular Pakistani officers 
and men were infiltrated into the State to disrupt 
communications, cause panic and eventually to take 
over the administration with the help of local 



India’s defence ministers 1917/62 475 

sympathisers. The Cabinet could not evade the issue 
of retaliating with maximum force and accept the con- 
sequences. Mr. Shastri and his able Defence Minister, 
Mr. Y. B. Chavan, took two momentous decisions with- 
out hesitation. When told by the Army leaders that 
the situation in Kashmir could not be restored without 
violating the Cease-Fire Line established after the 
termination of hostilities in January 1949, the Cabinet 
permitted the Army to take whatever action they deemed 
necessary. Indian forces captured the strategic Haji 
Pir Pass and an important height overlooking the 
major base at Kargil. They also crossed the Line in 
the Tithwal Sector and cut off the major infiltration 
routes. 

Frustrated and humiliated by the swift Indian 
riposte, Pakistan launched a massive attack with tanks 
against Indian positions at Chhamb-Jaurian in Jammu, 
and in doing so crossed the International Boundary at 
the point where it joins the Cease-Fire Line and 
threatened India’s supply lines. The Army requested 
Government for air strikes. The request was granted 
in a few minutes and aircraft were over the target area 
within an hour. By 3rd September it was obvious that, for 
strategic and other reasons, Pakistan could not be held 
in Jammu. Mr. Shastri took the second momentous 
decision to move the Indian Army against West 
Pakistan to forestall the strangulation of our forces in 
Kashmir. Pakistan’s bluff was called and she had to 
pull out of Jammu and concentrate on defending herself 
against the full weight of the Indian Army. Kashmir 
was saved. 

The actual fighting was left to the Service Chiefs. 
The political chiefs courted no publicity and indulged 
in no heroics. The Army was grateful for this correct 
behaviour. Mr. Shastri and Mr. Chavan did their 
duty which was to take timely political decisions firmly, 
issue unambiguous orders and carry on with their 
proper constitutional duties. They gave the Defence 



476 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Forces all the moral and material support within their 
power. 

The smooth functioning of the higher planning 
bodies was largely due to the background and personality 
of the Defence Minister. Mr. Chavan came to the 
Defence Ministry after the dismissal of Mr. Menon. 
His appointment was a welcome change from the rule 
of brilliant and unpredictable men. A spell of normalcy, 
orthodoxy and hard work was what was needed by the 
country and the Defence Ministry, and Chavan was 
the ideal choice. Mr. Chavan set about repairing the 
cracks of Menon’s regime. He trusted and respected 
his new Chief, Gen. J. N. Chaudhuri. The two had 
become personal friends when Gen. Chaudhuri com- 
manded Southern Command with his HQ. in Poona, 
in Maharashtra. This was most fortuitous. 

Mr. Chavan was instrumental in restoring the 
confidence of the Army and bringing a calm order- 
liness t» the functioning of the Ministry and the 
Service HQ’s. Gone were the day's of grandiose plans, 
flashy meetings and acid words. Mr. Cliavan’s out- 
ward meekness and lack of flamboy r ance soothed the 
nerves of a ruffled officer corps, still smarting under 
the accusation that they had let the country down. 
He had true Indian humility. He was fortunate in 
that the crisis of 1962 had loosened the purse-strings of 
Government and friendly powers had opened their 
arsenals to us. He did not interfere with, nor allow 
Civilians to interfere with the Army’s plans to remodel 
and re-equip the Armed Forces. By 1963, the Civilian 
was a thoroughly chastened man and had begun to 
understand his enormous responsibilities, as well as the 
limits of his authority. Mr. Chavan led a purposeful 
assault on old ideas and organisations. Within a few 
months the Army had been reorganised, mountain 
divisions raised and modern equipment and weapons 
issued to the troops. He did not seek scapegoats and 
exhorted everyone to forget the past and prepare for 
the second round, if it came. 



India’s defence ministers 1947/62 


477 


The proof of his success came in the short war 
with Pakistan. He gave firm leadership and stayed in 
the background. He acted constitutionally and based 
his decisions on professional advice. He restored the 
proper functioning of the various organs of Government 
in the formulation and implementation of war plans. 

A brief look at Mr. Chavan’s background and 
character may give us a clue to the reasons for his 
success where a more talented man failed. By Congress 
standards, Chavan was a young man. He was only 
48 years old when he joined the Union Cabinet. He is 
a member of the martial Maharatta clan and many 
in his constituency are soldiers. Soldiering is the 
major profession of the people and almost every home 
has a serving or retired soldier. The people of Satara 
District, situated in a rugged hilly area, have a reputation 
of cherishing freedom above all else. During the final 
stages of British Rule, the people formed a parallel 
Government, called the Patri-Sarkar , and the^ British 
writ was barely discernible in the area. Mr. Chavan 
took an active part in the revolutionary movement and 
did in fact go underground in 1942, till he was captured 
by the British Police and imprisoned. 

It is not surprising therefore to find the following 
qualities in Mr. Chavan. He respected the profession 
of arms unlike some of his predecessors. He had a 
personal interest in the welfare of soldiers ; if he did not, 
his voters would soon have reminded him of his obliga- 
tions. He was not a slave to the hypocritical pretensions 
of non-violence. 



EPILOGUE 


The Political Aftermath 

The Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 was restricted to a 
small fraction of the opposing armies; was fought in a 
small, remote comer of the border and lasted a mere 
month - with only ten actual days of fighting and yet 
it is a fact that it did initiate profound changes in our 
international standing, domestic politics and economic 
progress. 

The world was shocked at India’s political ineptness 
and military collapse. India startled her friends by 
her panicky reaction and the unceremonious volte-face 
with regard to non-alignment. She refused to break off 
diplomatic relations with a country that had unleashed 
a war on her. The poor performance of the respected 
Indian Army made many wonder at what had 
happened to reduce one of the finest professional armies 
of World War II to such depths of incompetence. 

Non-alignment, India’s post-war contribution to 
international political philosophy, was hurriedly scuttled 
despite contrary professions. According to Mr. D. R. 
Mankekar: “New Delhi now feverishly negotiated with 
Washington and London for arms aid in order to meet 
adequately the impending Chinese threat. On 26th 
October, New Delhi made an urgent appeal to the 
United States and United Kingdom for military 
supplies. Indeed the first consignment of United States 
arms arrived on 3rd November, even though the formal 
pact between the two countries was signed only on 
14th November”. He adds: “On 19th November, 
New Delhi made an urgent and specific request 
for American fighting air support. . . . According to 
one British observer, Nehru asked the U.S.A- and UK 



EPILOGUE 


479 


for 15 bomber squadrons to interdict the advancing 
Chinese troops in NEFA”. 

Mr. Nehru’s last unqualified appeal on 19th 
November, after the fall of Sela Pass, made every Indian 
share the anguish of this proud man. He admitted: 
“IVe shall require more help because it is a matter of 
survival for us. We have asked for every kind of help. 
There is no inhibition about it”. This was a sad 
admission for a man who had allegedly disdained 
Mr. Eisenhower’s offer of military aid without strings 
in 1953. Circumstances of his own creation compelled 
him to accept the presence of foreign military personnel 
on Indian soil, a short 15 years after we had rid ourselves 
of the British Army. Once we sought Western aid we 
could no longer pretend to be non-aligned where China 
and the United States were concerned. It may well 
be that we employed the face-saving formula of seeking 
help from all our friends, but we knew that only the 
United States and the United Kingdom had the will, 
the resources, the desire and above all the means to 
ensure timely delivery of vital war-like stores. The 
other major power Russia was a confused and unhappy 
spectator. She was just recovering from the tension 
of the Cuban Confrontation which had brought the 
world to the brink of a dreaded thermo-nuclear war. 
Sjie also faced the unenviable dilemma of antagonising 
either ‘fraternal China or friendly India*. 

The sad truth was that, in November 1962, India’s 
defence capability was heavily dependant on the 
generosity and identity of interests of the Western 
Powers. President Kennedy assumed the role of ‘big 
brother’ - a role which sat lightly on this true friend 
of India. Speaking with the immense authority of the 
President of the United States, he promised: . . . “to 
help India maintain herself against an attack if such 
an attack . should come again”. Not content with 
generalisations, Mr. Kennedy gave this unmistakable 
warning to China: “If China advanced any further 



480 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


they would be forcing the hand of the President of the 
United States”. Significantly the Chinese withdrew 
two days Jater. 

The Western Powers responded generously and 
war material was flown in with remarkable speed and 
efficiency. Up to the time of the Cease-Fire on 19th 
November there was no limit placed on the types or 
quantities required. 

"With the Chinese withdrawal the short-lived 
Indo-United States detente first came to a grinding 
halt and soon came to an end. When the urgency for 
re-arming the Indian Forces was removed, the Western 
Powers could afford to take a closer look at the long term 
implications of giving India further unfettered aid, 
without a re-definition of her foreign policy. Nations 
do not work on the basis of altruism or vague notions 
of friendship and it was inevitable that we would have 
to justify their faith in us. We would also have to 
give evidence of a more permanent identity with the 
donors’ interests. The United States and United 
Kingdom were obviously not prepared to underwrite 
and arm a nation which had frequently opposed them. 

The first obstacle in the way of a more permanent 
Indo-United States relationship was the tension, between 
India and Pakistan. The Western Powers were deeply 
committed to maintaining a balance of power between 
the two neighbours. Additionally, the United States 
had a vested interest in retaining her bases in Pakistan. 
We were asked to ‘renew efforts to settle the Kashmir 
issue’. Our desperate need for arms forced us to offer 
concessions and even to countenance mediation. For- 
tunately Pakistan over-played her hand and the series 
of 'talks’ were called off in August 1963. It had been 
a close shave. 

The second prerequisite was a statement of our 
long-term relationship with China with particular 
reference to our non-aligned poliev. We would obviously 
have to be a little more non-aligned towards the 



EPILOGUE 


481 


Western Powers if we were to qualify for. continued 
massive aid. In the event wc did not steer a fresh 
course and fell back on the stale and sterile policies of 
non-alignment, self-reliance and a facade of indepen- 
dence. Mr. Nehru’s authority had waned and he had 
to resort to tight-ropc walking to pacify and placate 
the many diverse political elements in his Party and in 
Parliament. In the difficult circumstances of 1962/63 
it was not easy to alter course. Nehru’s precipitate 
decline left a power vacuum which has yet to be filled 
and which has denied India purposeful leadership and 
a fresh outlook regarding our long-term interests. 

Mr. Nehru’s downfall was an undiluted tragedy 
for India. He was a universally admired and respected 
elder statesman. The Facile Chinese victory brutally 
exposed his failure in anticipating and preparing for a 
military showdown -with China. Whereas he had 
displayed remarkable adroitness in handling world affairs 
he had been disastrously myopic in a sphere of vital 
import to India. His international stature suffered a 
severe set-back. 

More tragic from India’s point of view was his fall 
from grace in the minds of bis countrymen. Mr. Nehru, 
the pride of India’s masses, was humiliated and lost his 
immense self-confidence. Never again was he to have 
a charismatic hold on the Indian People. He was 
tolerated only because of his past achievements and the 
Indian’s traditional loyalty to ciders and leaders. He 
retained his post because of sentiment and the lack of 
a second line of leadership, which he himself had not 
nurtured. By and large, the intelligentsia was dis- 
illusioned with him. His health deteriorated and he 
suffered a stroke in January 1964. The Chinese perfidy 
and betrayal, as he saw it, accelerated his end. He 
died within 20 months of die episode. 

Without a Nehru India ceased to be the moral 
leader of the non-aligned world. "Whereas prior to 
1962 she wielded immense power and influence despite 



480 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


they would be forcing the hand of the President of the 
United States”. Significantly the Chinese withdrew 
two days later. 

The Western Powers responded generously and 
war material was flown in with remarkable speed and 
efficiency. Up to the time of the Cease-Fire on 19th 
November there was no limit placed on the types or 
quantities required. 

With the Chinese withdrawal the short-lived 
Indo-United States detente first came to a grinding 
halt and soon came to an end. When the urgency for 
re-arming the Indian Forces was removed, the Western 
Powers could afford to take a closer look at the long term 
implications of giving India further unfettered aid, 
without a re-definition of her foreign policy. Nations 
do not work on the basis of altruism or vague notions 
of friendship and it was inevitable that we would have 
to justify their faith in us. We would also have to 
give evidence of a more permanent identity with the 
donors’ interests. The United States and United 
Kingdom were obviously not prepared to underwrite 
and arm a nation which had frequently opposed them. 

The first obstacle in the way of a more permanent 
Indo-United States relationship was the tension between 
India and Pakistan. The Western Powers were deeply 
committed to maintaining a balance of power between 
the two neighbours. Additionally, the United States 
had a vested interest in retaining her bases in Pakistan. 
We were asked to ‘renew efforts to settle the Kashmir 
issue’. ^ Our desperate need for arms forced us to offer 
concessions and even to countenance mediation. For- 
tunately Pakistan over-played her hand and the series 
of ‘talks’ were called off in August 1963. It had been 
a close shave. 

The second prerequisite was a statement of our 
long-term relationship with China with particular 
reference to our non-aligned policy. We would obviously 
have to be a little more non-aligned towards the 



EPILOGUE 


481 


Western Powers if we were to qualify for continued 
massive aid. In the event we did not steer a fresh 
course and fell back on the stale and sterile policies of 
non-alignment, self-reliance and a facade of indepen- 
dence. Mr. Nehru’s authority had waned and he had 
to resort to tight-rope walking to pacify and placate 
the many diverse political elements in his Party and in 
Parliament. In the difficult circumstances of 1962/63 
it was not easy to alter course. Nehru’s precipitate 
decline left a power vacuum which has yet to be filled 
and which has denied India purposeful leadership and 
a fresh outlook regarding our long-term interests. 

Mr. Nehru’s downfall was an undiluted tragedy 
for India. He was a universally admired and respected 
elder statesman. The facile Chinese victory brutally 
exposed his failure in anticipating and preparing for a 
military showdown with China. Whereas he had 
displayed remarkable adroitness in handling world affairs 
he had been disastrously myopic in a sphere of vital 
import to India. His international stature suffered a 
severe set-back. 

More tragic from India’s point of view was his fall 
from grace in the minds of his countrymen. Mr. Nehru, 
the pride of India’s masses, was humiliated and lost his 
immense self-confidence. Never again was he to have 
a charismatic hold on the Indian People. He was 
tolerated only because of his past achievements and the 
Indian’s traditional loyalty to elders and leaders. He 
retained his post because of sentiment and the lack of 
?*■ wxxkA lira of leadership, which he himself had not 
nurtured. By and large, the intelligentsia was dis- 
illusioned with him. His health deteriorated and he 
suffered a stroke in January 1964. The Chinese perfidy 
and betrayal, as he saw it, accelerated his end. He 
died within 20 months of the episode. 

Without a Nehru India ceased to be the moral 
leader of the non-aligned "world. Whereas prior to 
1962 she wielded immense power and influence despite 



482 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


her poverty and lack of military power, after the 
Chinese attack she was ‘cut to size* in the words of one 
unfriendly critic of Nehru. 

The rude awakening to the realities of life was 
just the kind of shock-therapy required to prod India 
to formulate and pursue a more realistic foreign policy 
based on her own national interests. Over the years, 
public opinion had been trained to look upon India’s 
special place in the world community as proof of her 
success and re-awakening from imperial subjugation. 
Mr. Nehru’s glittering international conquests were an 
opiate to a people weighed down by poverty and back- 
wardness. His international perignnations and the 
tumultuous receptions given him were a source of pride 
to the Indian people who did not appreciate the fatal 
consequences of neglecting domestic problems. Tra- 
gically for India, up to 1962, the Government was 
more concerned with the Cold War, Korea, Hungary, 
Indo-China, Gaza, the Congo and other world problems. 

After the painful lesson of 1962 we have come to 
realise that the w'orld role of a nation is related to its 
power. We have realised that there is no place for 
policies based on flimsy notions of fellowship with 
coloured ex-colonial countries. The Afro-Asian concept 
is at best a tenuous link. The reaction of the so-called 
non-aligned Afro-Asian group initially shocked us and 
later was a major sobering factor in the post-China 
War reappraisal. Only Emperor Hailie Selassie of 
Ethiopia and Tunku Abdul Rehman of Malaysia came 
out openly in our favour and condemned the Chinese 
attach unequivocally. 

It has been brought home to us that it is unwise to 
adopt a self-righteous attitude on ever}” w’orld crisis. 
We trod on many sensitive corns and made enemies 
who, quite understandably, gloated over our discom- 
fiture in 1962. It is good to note that Indian spokesmen 
now do not express opinions on each and every inter- 
national issue and gratuitously offer a solution, or 
mediation, or a peace-keeping contingent. We have 



EPILOGUE 


483 


learnt what has been common knowledge for over 2,500 
years ago when a Greek sage said: “You know as well 
as we do that right as the world goes, is only in question 
for equals in power: the strong do what they can, the 
weak suffer what -they must”. 

The domestic Indian scene -was radically altered. 
The Congress Party had enjoyed absolute hegemony 
in the political field and a complete monopoly of power. 
Without a restraining Opposition, it was clear that our 
set-backs were entirely , due to the wrong policies of 
the Congress. The Party became the prime target for 
the wrath of the people. It soon lost its elan and 
confidence. The decline of Mr. Nehru’s authority and 
his demise in 1964 spelt the death-knell of this once- 
great organisation. In the General Elections of 1967 
the voter expressed his disillusionment and the Party 
was rejected in 9 out of the 17 States of the Indian Union. 
Its majority in the Lok Sablia has been drastically 
reduced. India has no All-India' Party which is 
capable of providing an alternative, stable ‘Government 
and this central fact has had major repercussions, as 
India required another decade of stability and order 
to enable the economy to reach what the economists 
call the ‘take-off’ stage.' The decline of the Congress 
has brought together coalitions of unlike-minded parties 
who have no common political or economic aims. 
Their main motive is to oust the Congress and rule 
themselves . Many of the leaders of these small political 
groups arc disgruntled ex-Congressmen who were not 
given Party tickets or a share in the Congress ministerial 
appointments. Firm, decisive and when necessary, 
unpopular action, is not always possible for uneasy 
coalitions, with precarious majorities. We have wit- 
nessed the unseemly spectacle of members crossing the 
floors of State Legislative Assemblies; changing alle- 
giances; last minute defections and outright trading of 
votes. In some cases the number of ministers is inflated 
to accommodate as many members as possible and fore- 



484 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


stall defections. The -tax-payer is called upon to bear 
the cost of these strange machinations. 

Recently the Congress has moved in to the counter- 
attack and at the time of writing three such Governments 
have been toppled and replaced by Congress sponsored 
governments - the Party lending its majority to an 
acceptable chief minister. Presidential Rule has been 
imposed in some other States, barely a year after a 
General Election. Apart from doubts about the con- 
stitutional and ethical propriety of such manoeuvres, the 
people are denied good government.* 

The fact is that there is more instability and 
uncertainty that does not augur well for the Indian 
People; and it is also a fact that the Chinese aggression, 
which heralded the premature decline of the Congress 
has been largely responsible for the dramatic change in 
the Indian political scene. 

The situation in the Central Union Government 
has undergone a major change from the palmy, days of 
pre-1962. The Congress has a much reduced majority; 
it is faced by hostile non-Congress State Governments, 
it does not have an unquestioned leader like Mr. Nehru 
and is troubled by rivalries in the top echelons. This 
being so, it is not easy to take timely and firm decisions 
on vital matters, i Evasion and compromise are the 
order of the day. We have yet to take a wise, long-term 
and acceptable decision on the explosive language 
issuej A compromise formula Was pushed through the 
Lok Sabha, in December 1967, but this has not satisfied 
the contending parties. There have been language riots 
in the northern provinces as well as the southern states. 

- Minority groups arc clamouring for separate state- 
hood and while we have acceded to the wishes of some 
we have yet to decide on whether to agree to the others 
or devise more formulas to satisfy irreconcilable factions. 

* Presidential Rule was imposed on the States of Bengal, Bihar, Punjab and 
Uttar Pradesh. In February 19G9 mid-term Elections in these States resulted 
in the utter rout of Congress in Punjab and Bengal. No dear majority party 
emerged in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. 



EPILOGUE 


485 


Any statement by a Minister is likely to spark off dis- 
turbances and palace squabbles. 

We have yet to evolve a sound food policy, the 
most vital matter for the masses. We appear afraid to 
antagonise powerful Chief Ministers, the peasantry 
(the bulk of the voters), landlords and grain merchants. 
Disturbances over rising food prices were endemic in 
1967/68. Despite an unprecedentally bountiful harvest 
in 1968 there are still pockets of shortages and statutory 
rationing alongside a flourishing black market. 

The dismal list can be extended to include inter- 
state border ‘disputes*, economic policy and others. 
There is a feeling that the Government is more con- 
cerned with survival than governance. Unless wiser 
counsel prevails we may see our Government qualify 
for Sir Winston Churchill’s terrible indictment of a 
certain British Government: “The Government cannot 
make up its mind or they cannot get the Prime Minister 
to make up his mind. So they go on in strange paradox, 
decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, 
adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be 
impotent”. (Quoted by Lord Moran from G. M. 
Stanley’s Stanley Baldwin.) 

The changes in the economic field have been just 
as significant as in the military and political fields. 
Both China and India had started their new era of 
freedom with approximately the same economic base, 
with India holding the advantage, if anything. India 
had not been subjected to a debilitating and prolonged 
civil war as was China. In 1947 India was a creditor 
country with substantial sterling balances, a sound 
industrial base and an impressive net- work of rail 
and road communications. We had a reservoir of 
skilled technical and professional men and one of the 
world’s most efficient civil services. There was a 
great upsurge of nationalism and an intense desire to 
succeed as an independent nation. There was a sense 
of unity. 



486 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


The lightning Chinese victory appeared, super* 
ficially, to be a victory for China’s authoritarian regime 
and economic system over India’s mixed economy where 
the Public and Private Sectors were allotted comple- 
mentary roles. India’s planned economy, launched with 
great gusto and which had the blessings of the people 
came in for some rude soul-searching. Some questioned 
India’s ability to match China in the economic sphere. 
China had exploded a hydrogen bomb and pays in 
gold for her food purchases, while we continue to need 
loans and grants for our grain requirements. The 
confidence of 1950 was replaced by the uncertainty of 
1967/68. Tlic Chinese attack blasted the comforting 
theory of a planned, leisurely development programme 
which would cause the minimum dislocation to the 
existing order of things. In our democratic system, the 
support of the masses and the intelligentsia is a pre- 
requisite for the success of a planned economy and the 
temporary hardships that go with it. The loss of faith 
in planning is a momentous development. 

India’s economy was strained in 1962/63 and now 
in 1968 remains in the doldrums despite the adminis- 
tration of artificial respiration in the forms of loans and 
grants. The Budget of 1963 levied additional taxes 
to meet the increased defence expenditure, wliich rose 
from Rs. 350 crorcs to Rs. 900 crorcs in four years. 
Tie immediate spurt in expenditure was perforce met 
by deficit financing. Tie cascade of printed money 
has been the banc of the Indian economy and was 
perhaps the most damaging consequence of the fleeting 
Chinese War. Deficit financing has been the most 
potent factor in raising the price level, in creating 
conditions for inflation, increasing unemployment, 
lowering the purchasing value of the poor man’s hard- 
earned rupee and the grave hardships to the middle- 
classes and other fixed income groups. 

In the international economic field we have been 
forced to devalue the rupee, allegedly under foreign 



EPILOGUE 


487 


pressure and beg for rescheduling of our debt repay- 
ments. We need grants or loans to buy raw materials 
for the factories we have set up. We cannot make up 
our minds about the size and content of the Fourth 
Five-Year Plan, as it no longer possible to find nations 
to subsidise us. Our viability is questioned more closely 
than was the case in the early fifties. For food we have 
to rely on the bounty of the United States. Our debts 
have now, according to many experts, reached un- 
manageable proportions. Dependence of foreign aid 
and food makes us economically and politically vulner- 
able. There is little point in pursuing this litany of 
economic woes. The point that I have tried to bring 
out is that the Chinese Aggression has had far-reaching 
consequences and there is no sense in blinding ourselves 
to these harsh facts. 

We have paid a heavy price for our China Policy 
and our military unpreparedness. In the ultimate 
analysis the blame is attributable to every thinking 
Indian. We elect Members of Parliament who in 
turn endorse policies, accept the military appropriations 
and confirm the political decisions which govern the 
National Aims. “We need not expect a better State 
until we have better men; till then all changes will 
leave every essential thing unchanged”. 

We are still faced by two hostile neighbours with 
whom we have fundamental differences and we still 
spend a sizeable portion of our national budget on 
defence. We maintain a large standing Army of 
volunteers. But this is not enough. As Corelli Barnett, 
the British military historian has said: “It is generally 
true that the Army is an extension of society; military 
disaster is often national decline exposed in the violence 
of battle”. The National Will is the key factor in the 
military performance of a nation but this was sadly 
lacking in 1962. 

Many of us frittered away our energies on linguism, 
parochialism, casteism and other petty issues. By and 



488 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


large we were apathetic and indifferent to national 
problems which we left to a few chosen leaders. The 
unity and fervour unleashed by Independence were 
soon dissipated. The financial and commercial oppor- 
tunities opened up as a result of freedom from British 
domination were soon utilised to selfish ends. Moral 
standards deteriorated and we became used to reading 
of tax evasion, black money, concentration of wealth 
and nepotism. 

Gradually we became effete and looked upon the 
Army as a drain on the public exchequer instead of the 
instrument for enforcing our interests. We preferred 
terelyn shirts to parachutes; chocolates to emergency 
rations and transistors instead of vital Army communi- 
cations equipment. 

This outline of the events from 1950 to 1962 should 
stimulate wide public interest in national defence. 
India with her resources and skilled man-power is more 
than capable of ensuring her legitimate interests. It is 
only necessary for us to exercise vigilance on our 
leaders and to resolve never to allow ourselves to be 
pacified by words. 

Let us resolve now never again to be credulous 
and negligent. 



Appendix I 


Sardar Placed China 18 Years Ago 

My Dear Jawaharlal, 

Ever since my return from Alimedabad and after the Cabinet 
meeting the same day which I had to attend at practically fifteen 
minutes* notice and for which I regret I was not able to read all 
the papers, I have been anxiously thinking over the problem of 
Tibet and I thought I should share with you what is passing 
through my mind. 

I have carefully gone through the correspondence between 
the External Affairs Ministry and our Ambassador in Peking and 
through him the Chinese Government. I have tried to peruse 
this correspondence as favourably to our Ambassador and the 
Chinese Government as possible, but I regret to say that neither 
of them comes out well as a result of this study. 

“ The Chinese Government have tried to delude us by 
professions of peaceful intentions. My own feeling is that at a 
crucial period they managed to instil into our Ambassador a false 
sense of confidence in their so-called desire to settle the Tibetan 
problem by peaceful means. 

There can be no doubt that, during the peiiod covered by 
this correspondence, the Chinese must have been concentrating 
for an onslaught on Tibet. The final action of the Chinese, in 
my judgement, is little short of perfidy. 

The tragedy of it is that the Tibetans put faith in Us; they 
chose to be guided by us; and we have been unable to get them 
out of the meshes of Chinese diplomacy or Chinese malevolence. 
From the latest position,' it appears that we shall not be able to 
rescue the Dalai Lama. 

SUSPICION OF INDIA 

-- - Our Ambassador has. been at great pains to find an 
explanation or justification for 'Chinese policy and actions. Ai 



APPENDIX I . 


491 

In the background of this, we have to consider what new 
situation now faces us as a result of the disappearance or Tibet, 
as we know it, and the expansion of China almost up to our 
gates. Throughout history, ice have seldom been worried about cur 
north-east frontier. The Himalayas have been regarded as nn 
^penetrable barrier against any threat from the north. We had 
a fHendly Tibet which gave us no trouble. The Chinese were 
sided. They had their own domestic problems and never 
othered us about our frontiers. 



490 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


the External Affairs Ministry remarked in one of their telegrams, 
there was a lack of firmness and unnecessary apology in one or 
two representations that he made to the Chinese Government on 
our behalf. It is impossible to imagine any sensible person 
believing in the so-called threat to China from Anglo-American 
machinations in Tibet. Therefore, if the Chinese put faith in 
this, they must have distrusted us so completely as to have taken 
us as tools or stooges of Anglo-American diplomacy or strategy. 
This feeling, if genuinely entertained by the Chinese in spite of 
your direct approaches to them, indicates that, even though we 
regard ourselves as the friends of China, the Chinese do not 
regard as as their friends. With the Communist mentality of 
“Whoever is not with them being against them”, this is a signi- 
ficant pointer, of ivliich we have to take due note. 

LONE CHAMPION 

During the last several months, outside the Russian camp, 
we have practically been alone in championing the cause of 
Chinese entry' into the UNO and in securing from the Americans 
assurances on the question of Formosa. We have done every- 
thing we could to assuage Chinese feelings, to allay their appre- 
hensions and to defend their legitimate claims, in our discussions 
and correspondence with America and Britain and in the UNO. 
In spite of this, China is not convinced about our disinterestedness; 
it continues to regard us with suspicion and the whole psychology 
is one, at least outwardly, of scepticism perhaps mixed with a 
little hostility. 

I doubt if we can go any further than we have done already 
to convince China of our good intentions, friendliness and goodwill. 
In Peking we have an Ambassador who is eminently suitable for 
putting across the friendly point of view. Even he seems to have 
failed to convert the Chinese. Their last telegram to us is an 
act of gross discourtesy not only in the summary way it disposes 
of our protest against the entry of Chinese forces into Tibet but 
also in the wild insinuation that our attitude is determined by 
foreign influences. 

It looks as though it is not a friend speaking in that 
language but a potential enemy. 



APPENDIX I . 


491 


In the background of this, we have to consider what new 
situation now faces us as a result of the disappearance of Tibet, 
as wc know it, and the expansion of China almost up to our 
gates. Throughout history, we have seldom been worried about our 
north-easi frontier. The Himalayas have been regarded as an 
impenetrable barrier against any threat from the north. We had 
a friendly Tibet which gave us no trouble. The Chinese were 
divided. They had their own domestic problems and never 
bothered us about our frontiers. 

MELTING POT 

In 1914, wc entered into a convention with Tibet which was 
not endorsed by the Chinese. We seem to have regarded Tibetan 
autonomy as extending to independent treaty relationsliip. 
Presumably, all that we required was Chinese counter-signature. 
The Chinese interpretation of suzerainty seems to be different. 
We can, therefore, safely assume that very soon they will disown 
all the stipulations which Tibet has entered into with us in the 
past. That throws into the melting pot all frontier and com- 
mercial settlements with Tibet on which wc have been functioning 
and acting during the last half a century. 

China is no longer divided. It is united and strong. All 
along the Himalayas in the north and north-east, we have, on our 
side of the frontier, a population ethnologically and culturally not 
different from Tibetans or Mongoloids. 

The undefined state of the frontier and the existence on our 
side of population with its affinities to Tibetans or Chinese have 
all the elements of potential trouble between China and ourselves. 
Recent and bitter history also tells us that Communism is no shield 
against imperialism and that Communists are as good or as bad 
as imperialists as any other. Chinese ambitions in tliis respect 
not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include 
important parts of Assam. 

They have their ambitions in Burma also. Burma has the 
added difficulty that it has no McMahon line round which to 
build up even the semblance of an agreement. 



490 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


the External Affairs Ministry remarked in one of their telegrams, 
there was a lack of firmness and unnecessary apology in one or 
two representations that he made to the Chinese Government on 
our behalf. It is impossible to imagine any sensible person 
believing in the so-called threat to China from Anglo-American 
machinations in Tibet. Therefore, if the Chinese put faith in 
tliis, they must have distrusted us so completely as to have taken 
us as tools or stooges of Anglo-American diplomacy or strategy. 
This feeling, if genuinely entertained by the Chinese in spite of 
your direct approaches to them, indicates that, even though we 
regard ourselves as the friends of China, the Chinese do not 
regard us as their friends. With the Communist mentality of 
“Whoever is not with them being against them”, this is a signi- 
ficant pointer, of which we have to take due note. 

LONE CHAMPION 

During the last several months, outside the Russian camp, 
we have practically been alone in championing the cause of 
Chinese entry into the UNO and in securing from the Americans 
assurances on the question of Formosa. We have done every- 
thing wc could to assuage Chinese feelings, to allay their appre- 
hensions and to defend their legitimate claims, in our discussions 
and correspondence with America and Britain and in the UNO. 
In spite of tliis, China is not convinced about our disinterestedness; 
it continues to regard us with suspicion and the whole psychology 
is one, at least outwardly, of scepticism perhaps mixed with a 
little hostility. 

I doubt if \\ e can go any’ further than we have done already 
to convince China of our good intentions, friendliness and goodwill. 
In Peking we have an Ambassador who is eminently suitable for 
putting across die friendly point of view. Even he seems to have 
failed to convert the Chinese. Their last telegram to us is an 
act of gross discourtesy not only in the summary’ way it disposes 
of our protest against the entry’ of Chinese forces into Tibet but 
also in the wild insinuation that our attitude is determined by 
foreign influences. 

It looks as though it is not a friend speaking in that 
language hut a potential enemy. 



APPENDIX I - 


491 


In the background of this, we have to consider what new 
situation now faces us as a result of the disappearance of Tibet, 
as we know it, and the expansion of China almost up to our 
gates. Throughout history , we have seldom been worried about our 
north-east frontier. The Himalayas have been regarded as an 
impenetrable barrier against any threat from the north. We had 
a friendly Tibet which gave us no trouble. The Chinese were 
divided. They had their own domestic problems and never 
bothered us about our frontiers. 

MELTING POT 

In 1914, we entered into a convention with Tibet which was 
not endorsed by the Chinese. We seem to have regarded Tibetan 
autonomy as extending to independent treaty relationship. 
Presumably, all that we required was Chinese counter-signature. 
The Chinese interpretation of suzerainty seems to be different. 
We can, therefore, safely assume that very soon they will disown 
all the stipulations which Tibet has entered into with us in the 
past. That throws into the melting pot all frontier and com- 
mercial settlements with Tibet on which we have been functioning 
and acting during the last half a century. 

China is no longer divided. It is united and strong. All 
along the Himalayas in the north and north-east, we have, on our 
side of the frontier, a population ethnologicaUy and culturally not 
different from Tibetans or Mongoloids. 

The undefined state of the frontier and the existence on our 
side of population 'with its affinities to Tibetans or Chinese have 
all the elements of potential trouble between China and ourselves. 
Recent and bitter history also tells us that Communism is no shield 
against imperialism and that Communists are as good or as bad 
as imperialists as any other. Chinese ambitions in this respect 
not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include 
important parts of Assam. 

They have their ambitions in Burma also. Burma has the 
added difficulty that it has no McMahon line round which to 
build up even the semblance of an agreement. 



492 


HIMALAYAN* BLLTN’DER 


IDEOLOGICAL CLOAK 

Chinese irredentism and Communist imperialism are different 
from the expansionism or imperialism of the Western powers. 
The former has a cloak of ideology which makes it ten times 
more dangerous. In the guise of ideological expansion lie 
concealed racial, national and historical claims. 

The danger from the north and north-east, therefore, becomes 
both communist and imperialist. While our western and north- 
western threats to security arc still as prominent as before, a new* 
threat has developed from the north and north-east. Thus, for 
the first time, after centuries, India' s defence has to concentrate itself on 
two fronts simultaneous^. Our defence measures have so far been 
based on the calculations of a superiority over Pakistan. 

In our calculations we shall now have to reckon with 
Communist China in the north and north-east - a Communist 
China which has definite ambitions and aims and which does not, 
in any way, seem friendly disposed towards us. 

Let me also consider the political considerations on this 
potentially troublesome frontier. Our northern or north-eastern 
approaches consist of Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the 
tribal areas in Assam. From the point of view of communications 
they are weak spots. Continuous defensive lines do not exist- 
There is almost an unlimited scope for infiltration. Police 
protection is limited to a very small number of passes. There too, 
our outposts do not seem to be fully manned. 

TENUOUS LOYALTY 

The contact of these areas with us, is, by no means close and 
intimate. The people inhabiting these portions have no 
established loyalty or devotion to India. Even Darjeeling and 
Kalimpong areas are not free from pro-Mongoloid prejudices. 
During the fast three years, we have not been able to make an)* 
appreciable approaches to the Nagas and other hill tribes in Assam. 
European missionaries and other visitors had been in touch with 
them, but their influence was, in no way, friendly to India or 
Indians. In Sikkim, there was political ferment some time ago. 
It is quite possible that discontent is smouldering there. Bhutan 
is comparatively quiet, but its affinity with Tibetans would be a 



appendix I 


493 


handicap. Nepal has a weak oligarchic regime based almost 
entirely on force; it is in conflict with a turbulent element of the 
population as well as with enlightened ideas of the modem age. 

DIFFICULT TASK 

In these circumstances, to make people alive to the new 
danger or to make them defensively strong is a very difficult task 
indeed and that difficulty can be got over only by enlightened 
firmness, strength and n clear line of policy. I am sure the 
Chinese and their source of inspiration, Soviet Russia, would not 
iniss any opportunity of exploiting these weak spots, partly in 
support of their ideology and partly in support of their ambitions. 

IN MY JUDGEMENT, THEREFORE, THE SITUATION 
IS ONE IN WHICH WE CANNOT AFFORD EITHER TO 
HE COMPLACENT OR TO HE VACILLATING. WE MUST 
HAVE A CLEAR IDEA OF WHAT WE WISH TO ACHIEVE 
AND ALSO OF THE METHODS BY WHICH WE SHOULD 
ACHIEVE IT. ANY FALTERING OR K\CK OF DECISIVE- 
NESS IN FORMULATING OUR OBJECTIVES OR IN 
PURSUING OUR TOLICY TO ATTAIN THOSE OBJEC- 
TIVES IS HOUND TO WEAKEN US AND INCREASE THE 
THREATS WHICH ARE SO EVIDENT. 

Side by side with these external dangers we shall now have 
to face serious internal problems as well. I have already asked 
Iengar to send to the External Affairs Ministry a copy of the 
Intelligence Bureau’s appreciation of these matters. Hitherto, 
the Communist Party of India lias found some difficulty in con- 
tacting Communist abroad, or in getting supplies of arms, literature, 
etru O.uto. diem. 1 TUcy had wv c<w.vmvA ■Asftvcy.U 

and Pakistan frontiers on the cast or. with the long seaboard. 

» - . i *"* 

EASIER ACCESS 

They will ruiw^ have a comparatively easy means of access 
to Chinese Communists and 1 through flicm to other foreign 
Communists. Infiltration of spies, fifth columnists and communists 
would now be easier. Instead of having tb deal with isolated 
Communist pockets in Telengana and Warangal we may have to 
deal with Communist 1 thi eats to our security along our northern 



494 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


and north-eastern frontiers where, for supplies of arms and ammu- 
nition, they can safely depend on Communist arsenals in China. 

The whole situation thus raises a number of problems on 
which wc must come to an early decision so that \vc can, as said 
earlier, formulate the objectives of our policy and decide the 
methods by which those actions will hare to be fairly compre- 
hensive involving not only our defence strategy and state of 
preparation but also problems of internal security to deal with 
which we have not a moment to lose. We shall also have to deal 
with administrative and political problems in the weak spots 
along the frontier to which I have already referred. 

URGENT PROBLEMS 

It is, of course, impossible for me to be exhaustive in 
setting out all these problems. I am how ever giving below some 
of the problems, which, in my opinion, require early solution 
and round which w e have to build our administrative or military 
policies and measures to implement them. • 

(a) A military and intelligence appreciation of the Chinese 
threat to India both on the frontier and to internal security. 

( b ) An examination of our military position and such 
redisposition of our forces as might be necessary, particularly with 
the idea of guarding important routes or areas which arc likely 
to be the subject of dispute. 

(c) An appraisement of the strength of our forces and, if 
necessary, reconsideration of our retrenchment plans for the Army 
in the light of these new threats. 

(d) A LONG-TERM CONSIDERATION OF OUR 
DEFENCE NEEDS. MY OWN FEELING IS THAT UNLESS 
WE ASSURE OUR SUPPLIES OF ARMS, AMMUNITION 
AND ARMOUR, WE WOULD BE MAKING OUR DEFENCE 
POSITION PERPETUALLY WEAK AND WE WOULD NOT 
BE ABLE TO STAND UP TO THE DOUBLE THREAT OF 
DIFFICULTIES BOTH FROM THE WEST AND NORTH- 
WEST AND NORTH AND NORTHEAST. 

(?) The question of Chinese entry into the UNO. In view' 
of the rebuff which China has given us and the method which it * 



APPENDIX I 


495 


lias followed in dealing wit'll Tibet, I am doubtful whether we 
can advocate its claims any longer. There would probably be 
a threat in the UNO virtually to outlaw China, in view of its 
active participation in the Korean war. We must determine our 
attitude on this question also. 

(/) The political and administrative steps which we should 
take to strengthen our northern and north-eastern frontiers. This 
would include the whole of the border i.c. Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, 
Darjeeling and the tribal territory in Assam. 

(?) Measures of internal security in the border areas as well 
as the States flanking those areas such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, 
Bengal and Assam. 

(A) Improvement of our communications, road, rail, air and 
wireless, in these areas, and with the frontier outposts. 

(i) Policing and intelligence of frontier posts. 

(J) The future of our mission at Lhasa and the trade posts at 
Gyangtse and Yatung and the forces which we have in operation 
in Tibet to guard the trade routes. 

(k) The policy in regard to McMahon Line. 

RELATIONS WITH BURMA 
These are some of the questions which occur to my mind. 
It is possible that a consideration of these matters may lead us into 
wider questions of our relationship with China, Russia, America, 
Britain and Burma, This, however, would be of a general nature, 
though some might be basically very important, c.g., we might 
have to consider whether we should not enter into closer association 
■with Burma in order to strengthen the latter in the dealings with 
China. ' I do not rule out the possibility that, before a^plyicuj 
pressure on us, China might apply pressure on Burma. . With 
Burma, the frontier is entirely undefined and the Chinese territorial 
claims 'are more substantial. In its present position, Burma 
might offer an easier problem for China and, therefore, might 
claim its first attention. / 

I suggest that we meet early to have a general discussion 
on these problems and decide on such steps as we might think to 
be immediately necessary and direct quick examination of other 
problems with a view to taking early measures to deal with them. 



Appendix II 


Author’s Career and Credentials 

Brigadier John Parasiiram Dalvi’s genealogy can be 
traced to a long line of militar\ r forcbeais. He is proud to 
claim numerous blood relatives serving in the ranks of the Indian 
Army and especially in his ‘Family Regiment’ the Maratha 
Light Infantry. 

He was born in Basra (Iraq) on 3id July 1920, where his 
father was serving with the British Administration. Returning 
to India in 1929 he studied at St. Mary’s High School, Bombay, 
from where he graduated in December 1937. He continued his 
studies under the Jesuits at St. Xavier’s College, Bombay. At the 
outbreak of World War II he decided to discontinue bis studies 
and join the Arms . He took the Entrance Examination for 
admission to the Indian Militaiy Academy, Dehra Dun, in 
March, 1940, and secured a vacancy. On completion of his 
training he was commissioned into the Baluch Regiment. 

Dalvi served with lire 5th Battalion of the Baluchis almost 
tluoughout the War. During his service with the Battalion he 
took part in Field-Marshal Sir William Slim’s pursuit of the 
Japanese Army, from October 1914 to March 1945 and saw 
fighting-, with 19 Indian Division, notably at die crossing of the 
Irrawady, in January-Febi uary 1945. He was mentioned in 
despatches for gallant and distinguished service. 

In March 1945 he was selected to join the stall of General 
Sir Montague (Monty) Stopford, General Officer Commanding 
XXXIII Corps and later General Officer Commanding-in-Chief 
12th Army, in Burma. He was one of a handful of Indian Officers 
foUunatc enough to serve on the General Staff of a senior military 
formation, in action, during World War II. 

During his post-War career, lie held a variety of regimental 
and staff appointments. In 1917 lie was posted as instructor to 
the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dtui. From the Academy 
he returned to Infantry as the second-in-command of the 3t!i 



APPENDIX II 


497 


Royal Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force), theBaluch Regiment having 
been allotted to Pakistan. 

In 1949, Dalvi was detailed to the newly raised Brigade of 
Guards, the Indian Army’s first experiment in organising all- class 
infantry units. In 1950 he appeared for, and obtained a com- 
petitive vacancy, to the Staff College, at Wellington. On 
graduation in 1951, he was posted to the Lorried Brigade of the 
Armoured Division as Brigade Major. 

In January 1952 Dalvi was promoted Lieutenent Colonel to 
command the 4th Battalion of the Guards. 

On completion of his command tenure he was posted to Army 
Headquarters as General StaffOfficer Grade I toMilitaryOperations 
Directorate of the General Staff. This Directorate which deals 
with operational planning at the highest level gave Dalvi his 
first insight into our decline, which eventually led to the Thagla 
Episode and our ignominious defeat at the hands of the Chinese. 

After a brief spell in a second tenure of Command (1st Guards), 
Dalvi was promoted Full Colonel in January 1960 and appointed 
Deputy Commandant of the Military Academy. In October 
I960, he was given accelerated promotion and made Brigadier- 
in-Charge Administration to Headquarters XV Corps. In this 
appointment, his area of responsibility extended to Ladakh and 
Jammu and Kashmir. His experiences in this vital assignment are 
narrated in his book and make very depressing reading indeed. 

In January 1962 he volunteered to command 7 Infantry 
Brigade in the North-East Frontier Agency Sector of Towang, 
on the Indo-Tibetan Border. His lucid and gripping narrative 
of his command describe the events leading to the 20th of October 
which resulted in his Brigade being pushed, prodded and finally 
presented to the Chinese on a plate. 

Whilst endeavouring to rejoin the remnants of his command, 
he was captured on 22nd October 1962. He was repatriated 
in May 1963. During the months of his incarceration Dalvi 
formed the general outline of this book and resolved that the 
Indian People should hear the truth from the only senior officer 
"ho was there throughout; who has no axe to grind; no reputation 
to save and is too junior to worry about a place in fmtory. 


Index 


Abdullah, Sheikh, 89-90 
Administrate e Reforms Committee, 
417 

Afghanistan, 5 
Agra, 289, 315, 355 
Ahmedabad, 489 

Ahluwalia, Lt.-Col. Balwant Singh, 
118, 126, 129-130, 137,371 
Aklinur, 108 

Aksai Chin, 18, 28, 31, 36, 38, 146, 404 
Alanbrook, Field-Marshal Lord, 424- 
425 

Alexander Field-Marshal Sir Harold, 
201, 347, 365 
Algeria, 398 

All-India Rad»o, 270, 312 
Ambans (Chinese Residents in Tibet), 
8-9 

America (see United States) 

Amrik Singh, Maj.-Gen., 108, 139 
Anglo-Chinese Treaty (1906), 9-10 
Anglo-Tibetan Treaty (1904), 9, 20 
Appreciation, 23/29 Sept. 1962, 231- 
232, 235, 240, 253, 260-261, 428 
Arakan, 49, 91 
Amim, Gen. von, 191 
Assam, 1, 4, 30, 41, 44, 56, 60, 64, 155, 
250-251, 439, 459, 491-492, 495 
Assam Rifles, 40-41, 57-58, 70, 72, 114, 
118, 121, 124-125, 128, 130-131, 134, 
136-137, 139, 143, 166-167, 169, 
177-179, 185, 188-189, 198, 209,216, 
224, 277, 355 
Attlee, Clement, 348 
Auchinleck, Field-Marshal Sir Claude, 
253, 347-348, 379 
Auxterlitz, Battle oC, 362 
Ayyangar, Gopalaswami, 449-450 
Azad Kashmir (Forces), 26 

Baldev Singh, Sardar, 448-449 
Bara Hoti, 21 

Bandung Conference (1955), 21 
Bangalore, 459 

Barnett, Corelli, 286, 350, 487 
Battalions 

1st Bn. The Guards (Punjab), 497 
4th Bn. The Guards (1 Rajput), 497 
9 Punjab, 107-108, 112, 121, 132, 
144, 170, 177-178, 181, 183. 185- 
186, 188-189, 193-194, 197-198, 
202-203, 205-209, 211-213, 215- 


216, 220-221, 226-227, 272, 277, 
281, 284, 291-292, 294, 300, 316- 
317, 327, 333, 337, 361, 364, 371, 
382, 387 

4 Grenadiers, 183, 297,-307, 333 
362, 364, 371, 302-384, 387 

2 Rajput, 178, 222-225, 227-228, 
241, 263, 272-274, 276, 278, 282, 
286, 288-290, 292-294, 298-299, 
307, 338-339, 355-356, 361, 363, 
365, 367-372, 374, 381 
2 Jat, 56 

5 Baluch, 92, 389, 496-497 

1 Sikh, 71, 110-111, 121, 137, 144, 
178, 183, 226 

6 Kumaon, 224 

5th Gorkhas, 181, 497 
1/8 Gorkha Rides, 150-151 
1/9 Gorkha Rifles, 56, 58, 120-121, 
126, 128-129, 144, 165, 178, 222- 
223, 225, 227-228, 241, 263, 272- 
273, 276, 278, 282, 286, 297-299, 
307, 326-327, 335-339, 352, 354, 
361, 365-368, 371-374, 439 
Bengal, 450, 495 
Berthier, Marshal, 297 
Bewoor, Lt.-Gen. G. G., 91-92 
Bewoor, Sir Gurunath, 92 
Bhagat, Lt.-Gen. P. S., 397 
Bharat Electronics, 185 
Bhargava, G. S., 67, 69, 74 
Bhatia, Capt., 369 
Bhup Singh, 369 

Bhutan, 11, 14, 108, 372, 492, 495 
Bhutan Tri -Junction, 57, 71, 133, 206, 
208, 328, 467 
Bihar, 23, 495 
Bikram Singh, Lt.-Gen., 4Q7 
Biswas, Jemadar, 368-369 
Bleting, 208 
Bombay, 377, 462 

Bomdilla, 1, 58, 60-61, 67, 72, 113, 144, 
184, 190, 350 

Border Roads Organisation, 61, 75, 79, 
110, 113, 115, 1 19-120, 122, 127, 
149, 256, 273, 289, 308, 319, 354, 
432, 444, 465 
Bose, Jemadar, 369 
Bose, Subhas Chandra, 92 
Boucher, Gen. Sir Roy, 24 
Bowles, Chester, 142 
Brahmaputra River (Valley), 1, 57, 
389 



500 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


Bridges 

Bridge I, 204-206, 209, 211, 213, 216, 
219, 221, 238, 272, 281, 296-298, 
300, 307, 317-318, 360, 362, 364, 
367 

Bridge II, 204, 208-209, 213-214, 219- 
221, 238, 272, 281, 300, 361, 364, 
367 

Bridge III, 209, 213, 216, 221, 238, 
282-283, 294, 296, 298-299, 314, 

338, 361, 363-364, 381 

Bridge IV, 209, 213, 221, 238, 276, 
281, 282, 294, 296, 298-300, 314, 
326, 338, 335, 363-364, 368 
Bridge V, 239, 338, 361, 373 
Log Bridge, 276, 292, 294, 299-300, 
338-339, 364 

Temporary Bridge, 296, 314, 338- 

339, 364, 369, 373 

Brigades 

Parachute, 382 
5 Brigade, 249 

7 Brigade, 99, 103, 107, 109-110, 
113, 121-124, 132, 139-141, 144- 
145, 158, 170-171, 173-174, 176, 
178, 181-183, 185, 189, 193, 222- 
224, 226, 228, 232, 236, 240, 249, 
255-257, 259-260, 262-264, 266, 
268-269, 271, 273, 275-280, 286- 
288, 294-298, 300, 307, 313, 315, 
317, 320, 322, 324-325, 328, 334, 
336, 338-341, 344, 354, 360-363, 
367, 372, 375, 378, 391, 435, 440, 
442-443, 472, 497 
11 Brigade, 110, 144, 174 
Brijpal Singh, Havildar, 381, 386 
Britain (see United Kingdom) 
Bulganin, Marshal, 33 
Bumla, 58, 132, 178, 367 
Burma, 11, 16, 38, 57, 64, 97, 491, 
495-496 

Cairo, 348 
Canada, 289, 468 
Cariappa, Gen. K. M„ 399, 448 
Cassino, 121, 190,201-202, 365 
(CENTO) Central Treaty Organisa- 
tion, 25 

Ceylon, 38, 156 
Chacko camp, 110 
Chakravarti, Rear-Admiral A., 469 
Chamberlain, Neville, 161 
Charduar, 224 
Chang Chen mo Valley, 46 
Chaudhry, Major, 216, 280, 290, 292, 
291, 298 


Chaudhuri, Gen. J. N., 96, 108, 212, 
476 

Chaudhri, Nirad. C., 348, 427-428, 
438-439 

Chavan, Y. B., 29, 60, 158, 191, 397, 
430, 434, 436, 440-441, 475-477 
Chen Yi, Marshall, 150-151, 157, 247 
Chhad Bet, 30 
Chhamb, 27, 475 

Chiefs of Staff Committee, 69, 100, 
187, 192, 414, 418-419, 421-423, 428 
Chien Lung, Emperor, 9 
China, 2-4, 6-16, 18-23, 27-29, 31, 
33-38, 41-43, 48-49, 51, 53, 60-62, 
65, 67-68, 74. 90, 94-95, 101, 113, 
117, 133, 135, 138, 142-143, 146- 
150, 153, 159-160, 165, 169, 184,201, 
2 1 2, 2 1 6, 22 1 , 236, 247-248, 291 , 329, 
398, 404-406, 428, 431, 434, 444, 
449-450, 457, 459, 468-469, 474, 479- 
481, 485-487, 490-492, 494-495 
Chindit Operation (1944), 16 
Chindwin River, 64 
Chinese Communist Party, 8 
Chinese Frontier Guards, 45, 208, 210, 
376 

Chinese Peoples’ Congress, 38 
Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army, 6, 
8, 12, 36, 97, 199, 208, 390, 406 
Chinese Peoples’ Republic, 9 
Chinese Revolution (1911), 10 
Choksen, 131, 172, 387 
Churchill, Sir Winston, 291, 347-348, 
379, 424-425, 485 
Chusul, 85, 103 
Chutangmu, 39 

Chou En-Lai, 21, 31, 38, 66, 77, 148, 
387, 389 

Clausewitz, von, 184, 313 
Colombo, 156, 312, 329 
Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Con- 
ference (1962), 156-157 
Congo, 482 

Congress Party, 27, 35, 42, 52, 95, 
407, 456, 462, 473, 477, 483 
Corps 

IV, 5, 260, 264, 267, 280, 282, 291, 
313, 332, 340, 344-345, 347, 351 
XV, 77, 80, 82, 84, 497 
XXXIII, 69, 140, 155, 168-169, 178, 


v-romwen, vjnvcr, 101 
Cuban Confrontation (Oct. 1962), 479 
Curzon, Lord, 9, 135 
Czarist Russia, 9 

Dagshai, 56 
Daily Telegraph, 64 



INDEX 


501 


Dalai Lama, 9-10, 12, 18, 37-38, 116, 
151,404, 489 

Dalvi, Brig. J. P., 223, 274-276, 280, 
310, 375, 496-497 
Dange, S. A., 456 
Darjeeling, 492, 495 
Dasrath Singh, Subedar, 369 
Daulet Singh, Lt.-Gen., 87, 199, 439 
Defence Committee of the Cabinet, 57, 
69-70, 96, 101, 156-157, 187, 200, 
229, 246, 308, 402-410, 416, 423, i 
428, 461 

Defence Services Staff College, 15-16, 
110, 120,470,497 

Delhi, 25, 36, 53, 57, 77, 86, 99-100, 
103, 107, 111, 117,122,145, 149,151- 
152, 157, 167-168, 171, 173, 181, 
183, 186, 188, 194, 198-200, 212, 
215, 225, 228, 231, 233, 236-239, 
242, 245, 251, 270, 283-285, 292, 
295-296, 300, 307-208, 310, 325, 
329, 331, 333, 339-341, 344-345, 
348, 351, 354, 377, 406, 423, 427- 
428, 441-442, 471,478 
Dcsai, Morarji, 157, 407-409, 415, 456, 
458, 461-464, 468, 470 
Dhillon, Maj.-Gen. J. S., 247-248 
Dhola Post (also area), 44-45, 71, 125, 
133-139, 143-14-1, 166, 169, 171-173, 
177-178, 180-182. 185-189, 192-194- 
198,201-203,207,209, 211-212,216, 
218, 220-221, 228-229, 248, 256-259 
261-264, 271-279, 281-283, 286, 291, 
291, 296, 308, 317, 322, 360, 364, 
367, 372, 382, 423, 427 
Dhola Massif (also Peat), 355, 371, 
383, 385, 389 
Digboi (Oilfields), 4 
Dimapur, 64 

Dirang, 58, 1 10-1 1 1, 113, 121-122 
Divisions 

7th British Armoured, 190 
4th Indian Division (Red Eagle) , 
56-57, 59, 70-71, 109-110, 121- 
122, 137, 139, 141-145, 158, 167- 
168, 181, 190-191, 203, 210, 214, 
275. 318, 323-324, 333, 336, 342, 
361,365, 388 

Dorman Smith, Maj.-Gen. E., 347 
Drotung Samba Bridge, 39, 43, 130, 
367, 382, 388-389 
Dulles, John Foster, 25 
Dura Dum La, 336 
Dunkirk, 425 


Eagles’ Nest, 113 

Eastern Command, CO, 82, HO, 155, 


168, 177-178, 182, 186, 192-193,214, 
222, 263, 273, 284, 427 
Eden, Sir Anthony (Lord Avon), 161 
Egypt, 190 

Eisenhower, President D. D., 25, 27, 
479 

El Alamein, 349-350 
Eritrea, 190 


Ferozepore, 30 
First Five-Year Plan, 19, 401 
Foothills, 56, 110, 112-113, 174, 190 
Forward Policy, 38, 44, 67, 69-74, 97, 
109, 133, 135-136, 143, 167, 217, 
252, 422, 426, 444, 461 
Fourth Five-Year Plan, 487 
France, 33, 161 

French, Field Marshal Sir John, 267 


Galwan (Valley), 148, 150-151, 155, 
267, 291 

Gandhi, Mahatma, 398 
Gauhati, 69-70, 99, 122, 323-324 
Gauhati Officials’ Meeting (Feb, 1962), 
69-72, 109 
Gaza, 482 
Gazala, 350 
Geneva, 149-150, 247 
Geneva Conference on Indo-China 
(1954), 454 

Geneva Conference on Laos (1962), 150 
Gilgit, 27 
Goa, 156 

Gopal, Major, 272 
Gracey, Gen. Sir Douglas, 24 
Gupta, Capt.T. K., 171, 196,210-211, 
381,385 

Gurdial Singh, Major, 368 
Gyantse, 20, 495 
Gyspu, 129 


Haig, Field Marshal Sir Douglas, 289 
Haihe Selassie, Emperor, 482 
Haji Pir Pass, 475 

Hangen, Welles, 43, 54, 69, 90-91, 462 
Hangman’s Hill, 365-366 
Harbaksh Singh, Lt-Gen., 345 
Haribar Singh, Lt.-Col. 307 
Hart, Capt. Lidell, 358 
Hathungla Pass, 63, 138, 172, 177, 181, 
204, 208, 2 14, 2 1 7, 226, 236-238, 270, 
272, 277, 296, 298, 307, 310, 316, 
320, 361, 362, 365, 367, 371, 382, 
385, 387, 389-390 
Hazra, Capt. P. K., 129 
Hisidi-Chint BhaiBhai, 19, 21, 31 
Hooja, 7 1 

Hitler, Adolf, 63, 161, 358-359 



INDEX 


503 


Lok Sabha (also Parliament), 14, 25, 
27, 28, 35-36, 38, 40-43, 48, 51-52, 
55, 57, 63, 63, 86, 88, 96-97, 191 , 397, 
409,417-418, 428,434, 437, 454, 469, 
471-474, 481, 483-484, 487 
London, 156, 245, 41 1, 453, 478 
Longju, 39-40, 43-45, 47, 148, 151, 208, 
216 

Lucknow, 122, 145, 168, 186, 241, 284, 
427, 442 

Lumla, 128, 175476, 186, 188, 197, 
331 

Lumpu, 130-131, 144, 166-167, 170, 
175, 177-178, 181, 185-186, 188- 
189, 194, 197-198,202-203,205,214, , 
216-219, 223, 225-226, 228, 231- 
232, 240-241, 256, 258-264, 266, 
267, 272, 276-278, 284, 290, 293, 
296-297, 316-317, 319, 334, 339, 
361-362 365,373,381,385-390 
Maginot Line, 378 
Maitra, Col. A. K„ 115,318 
Majdalany, F., 180, 190, 287, 365-366 
Maldon (Bye Election) , 348 
Malhotra, Indcr, 61, 135 
Mallick, Major, 115 
Manchu (Dynasty), 10 
Manekshaw, Lt.-Gen. S. H. F. J., 96, 
469-470 

Mangat, Capt., 368 
Mam, Brig. O. M., 120 
Mankekar, D. R., 346, 353, 478 
Manohar Singh, Lt.-Col., 109, 158 
Manstein, Fjeld-Marshal Eric von, 
313, 358-359 
Mao Tse Tung: 46, 258 
Marlborough, Duke of, 254 
Marmang, 66, 152, 154, 173, 314 
Master, Lt.-Col. Byram F., 108, 110, 
118, 171 

Mathura, 224 ’ 

McMahon Line, 11, 18, 43-44, 57, 
60-61, 63, 66, 77, 102, 105, 118, 
125, 131, 133, 136, 140, 143, 143, 
165, 206, 209, 287, 383, 387, 495 
Meerut, 215 

Mehta, Lt.-Col. B. N. (“Baij”), 16, 

110, 171 

Mtnon, V. K. K., 3-4, 42-43, 46-48, 
51-55, 61-62, 68-69, 75, 81, 88, 93, 

111, 135-136, 139, 150, 156-157, 
159, 161, 198, 200, 212, 228, 233, 
245-246, 250, 284, 328, 345, 351- 
352, 397-398, 407-409, 411, 415, 
423, 425-426, 428-429, 437, 442, 
444-445, 447, 451-465, 467-474, 476 

Migytun, 39-40 
Military aid to Pakistan, 25 


Ministry of External AfFairs, 6-7, 16, 
41, 43, 57, 63, 71, 124, 134, 136, 
151, 222, 458, 467, 489-490, 493 
Ministry of Defence, 51, 55, 63, 96, 
136, 157, 222, 402, 410-415, 417- 
418, 447-449, 451, 457, 458, 476 
Ministry of Finance, 80, 96, 415, 417- 
418,437 

Ministry of Home Affairs, 22, 136, 458 
Misamari, 56, 65, 108-110, 113, 121- 
123, 155, 170, 176, 179, 214, 220, 
226 

Misra, Lt.-Col. R. N., 171, 179, 189, 
206, 208-209, 214, 218-219, 227, 
272, 281, 288, 298, 333 
Mongia, V. V., 177, 219 
Monpas, 115-116, 127-128, 202, 210- 
211,223 

Montgomery, Field-Marshal Lord, 347 

Mookerjee, Shyama Prasad, 6 

Moran, Lord, 485 

Moti Sagar, Lt.-Gen., 93, 103 

Muksar, 240 

Mulhck, B. N., 71 

Mutaguchi, Gen., 64 

Mutual Aid Treaty, 25, 404 

Naga, 461, 492 

Nagaland, 110, 144, 174, 190, 192, 
200, 251 

Namka Chu River, 1, 44, 98, 101, 138, 
145, 152, 172, 174, 182-183, 185, 

188, 194-195, 198, 204-209, 213- 

215, 218-219, 221-222, 227, 231-232, 
234, 237-239, 257-261, 266, 269- 
271, 275, 277-279, 281, 286, 288, 
290, 293, 295-297, 299-301, 307, 

313, 315, 317-319, 322, 325-329, 

331-334, 337-339, 343, 345, 350, 
352, 354, 357, 360-362, 364, 366, 
368, 373-375, 377-378, 384, 392, 
421, 432, 438, 443 
Napoleon, Bonaparte, 63, 297, 421 
Narayan, Jayaprakash, 12 
Nasser, President Abdul Gamal, 249, 
398 

Nathu La (Pass), 63 
National Defence Academy, Poona, 369 
National Defence Council, 48 
Nayar Kuldip, 4 
Nehru, B. K., 405 

Nehru, Pandit Jawaharlal, 2, 4, 5, 7-8, 
13-14, 17, 20-21, 23, 25-28, 30-32, 
31-41, 43-45, 47-52, 67-72, 74, 76- 
77, 79, 86, 88-90, 92-96, 136, 150, 
155-156, 201, 245-249, 260, 262- 
283, 295, 209, 311-312, 329, 345- 
346, 360, 364, 379, 398-399, 405- 



504 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


406, 408-409, 423, 425-426, 428- 
429, 437, 443-444, 447-450, 452-454, 
456-458,461,463-464, 469-470,473- 
474, 479 481-481,489 
Nelson, Lord, 365 
Nepal, 14, 492-493, 495 
New China Ji'ews A^mcy, 8 
New York, 245, 427, 470 
Xew York Timet, 74, 454 
Nijjar, Major Balraj Singh, 341, 381, 
384-385 

Nkrumah, Dr., 398 

North East Frontier Agency Adminis- 
tration, 57-59, 72, 114, 127-128, 134, 
143,211,223,497 

North East Frontier Agency {NEFA), 
I, 14, 18, 30, 35-36, 40, 42, 45, 47, 
55-57, 60-61, 65-66, 69-71, 76, 78- 
79, 84, 94, 109, 112, 114, 129, 133, 
136, 150, 152, 168, 171, 184, 190, 
199-200, 212, 216, 224, 229, 234, 
246, 250-251, 257,260, 269-270, 312, 
322, 324, 329, 345-346, 360, 365, 
371, 378, 397, 409, 423, 407, 432, 
435, 443-444, 446, 457, 459, 461, 
471,479 

NEFA Enquiry Board, 191, 266, 397, 
413, 430, 434,441 
Nuranaung, 111-112 
Nyam Jang Chu River, 126-127, 131, 
172, 206, 208, 361-362, 365, 367, 
387-389 

Operation ONKAR, 109, 121, 133, 
134, 141 

Paints!, Lt.-Gen. R. S., 108 
Paitsai Spur, 218, 237 
Pakistan, 23-34, 41, 47, 51, 53-54, 169, 
171, 40-1-405, 450-452, 457, 459, 474, 
480, 492-493 

Palit, Brig. D. K., 107, 118, 130, 165 
Panch Sheet, 20-21 
Pangong Lake, 149 
Panipat, Battle of, 364 
Pankentang, 58-59, 120, 132 
Pannikar, Saxdar K. M., 7, 489-490 
Pant, Major B. K., 370-371 
Parliament (see Lok Sabha) 

Partap Singh, Subedar, 24 
Patel, H. M„ 448 

Patel, Sardar Vallabhbhai, 7, 17. 95, 
398, 447 

Pathania, Maj -Gen. A. S., 346 
Patbaria Reserve Forest, 30 
Pain Sathar (1942), 477 


Pawar, Major, 297 
Pearl Harbour, 167 
Peking, 12-13, 77, 221 
Pereira, Major C. L. (Bertie), 166-167, 
171, 375 
Peshawar, 25 
P/esx Tnul ef India, 62 
Pinto, Air Vice-Marshal Erhlich, 102- 
103 

Plassey, Battle of, 364 
Poona, 476 
Poonch, 93, 121 

Prasad, Capt. Mahabir, 71, 137, 282- 
283 

Prasad, Maj.-Gen. Niranjan, 139, 141, 
165; 177, 181, 192-195, 228, 231- 
234, 236-237, 240, 260-262, 264, 
272, 274, 281-282. 288, 293, 296, 
209, 312. 326, 330-332, 336. 338- 
343, 351-352, 354-355, 366, 373-375, 
442 

Proudfoot, Lt-Col. C. L., 466 
Punjab, l, 23-24, 26-28, 30, 56, 125, 
155, 165, 170, 419, 435 
Punjab Boundary Force, 49 

Radhnkrishnan, Dr. S., 2 
Raghuramiah, K., 228, 427 
Rajasthan, 252 
Rajwade, Brig. M. R., 291 
Rajya Sabha, 443 
Ram Singh, NLijor, 373 
Ranbir Singh, Brig., 59, 118, 132 
Ranga, Prof. N. G., 16 
Rangiya Station, 108 
Rangoon, 64, 77 
Rann of Kutch, 27, 30 
Richardson, Hugh, 1 1-12 
Rikh, Lt.-Col. Maha Singh, 223-224, 
288,297,355,368-369 
Robertson, Field-Marshal Sir William, 
424 

Rommel, Field-Marshal Envin, 283, 
347, 349-350 
Rongla, 322, 375 
Rosenthal, A. M., 74, 454 
Roshan Singh, Naik, 369 
Rudok, 18 

Russell, Bertrand, 453 

Russia (sec Soviet Union), 479, 495 

Sandhu, Lt-Col. P. S., 110, 111 
Sanjeeva Rao, Lt.-Col., 273, 284, 291 
Sarin, H. C., 427 
Satara District, 477 



INDEX 


505 


Second Five-Year Plan, 33 
S eh gal, Flt.-Lt„ 373 
Sela Pass, 1, 65, 111, 113, 114, 122, 
144, 170, 174, 184, 190, 225, 345, 
346, 350, 479 

Sen, Lt.-Gen.-L. P., 82-83, 87, 186- 
188, 191-195, 198, 200, 212, 228- 
229, 233-234, 241, 245-246, 250, 
253, 255-259, 274-275, 279, 285, 
312, 327, 346, 352, 439-440, 442 
Sen, Lt.-Col. K. B., 115, 264 
Sengc, 111,224 
Senger, Gen von, 202 
Serkhim, 204, 220, 226-227, 268, 272, 
362, 383, 385, 386, 387, 3B9, 390 
Seventeen-Point Agreement, 12, 18 
Seydlitz, Gen., 379 

Shakti, 58, 128-131, 144, 170, 172, 
186, 197 

Shaiaa, W., 115, 126, 177 

Shastri, Lai Bahadur, 4, 200, 463, 

475 

Shillong, 124, 134, 168, 264 
Shrinagesh, Gen. S. M., 458 
Sidi Barrani, Battle of (Day), 145, 158, 
323 

Sikkim, 14, 492, 495 
Simla Conference 1913/14, 10, 206 
Simla Convention (Agreement), 11, 12, 
43 

Sinkiang Province, 18 
Sinkiang Highway, 28, 31, 36, 38 
Sino-Indian Agreement on Trade and 
Intercourse 1954, 19,20, 22,31 
Sino-Indian Border, 38, 42-43, 48, 74, 
150, 159, 168,419,420 
Sino-Indian Officials’ Talks (1960), 43, 
151 

Slim, Field-Marshal Sir William, 64, 
496 

Soekamo, Dr., 398 
Soman, Rear-Admiral B. S., 469 
South-East Asia Treaty Organisation 
(SEATO), 25 

Sovjet-Pakistan Arms Deal, 27 
Soviet Union (also Russia and USSR), 
25-27, 33, 34, 63, 64, 479, 493, 495 
Spanggur, 39 
Spanish Civil War, 453 
Srinagar, 90, 157 
Stalingrad, 358 

Statesman (Calcutta), 61, 63, 72, 135, 
312 

Stopford, Gen. Sir Montague, 496 
Stumme, Geo. 350 
Subansiri Frontier Division, 39 
Suez, 32, 161,455 
Sweden, 33 


Taiwan (Formosa), 148, 490 
Talwar, Capt. Haijeet Singh: 341, 
355, 381, 385, 386 
Telengana, 19, 493 
Tenga Valley, 58 
Tewari, Lt.-Col. K. K., 334 
Tezpur, 4, 72, 141, 158, 165466, 168, 
171, 181-182, 189, 192. 198, 201, 
255-257, 260, 264, 282, 284, 286, 
291, 317, 323, 328, 335, 341, 344, 
354, 442, 459, 471 

Thagla Affair (also Operation/Episode) 
152, 157, 159, 161, 167, 169470, 
179, 184, 198-199, 202, 219, 221, 
228, 231, 233, 247, 252-253, 255, 
262-263, 268-269, 336, 341, 352 
354, 372-373, 376, 390, 397, 426, 
439, 443, 460, 497 

Thagla Ridge (also area/heights/mas- 
sif/slopes), 1, 43, 63, 77, 125, 130- 
133, 136, 138, 143, 152, 154, 156, 
158-160, 165-166, 168, 170-176, 182- 
185, 187, 192, 198-199, 207-209, 
211-213, 217-222, 226, 229, 234, 
237,* 240, 246-247, 252, 256, 258- 
259, 267-269, 272-273, 275, 277, 
282-283, 285, 287, 290-291, 293- 
294, 297, 301-302, 307-308, 311, 
313-314, 322-323, 325, 331, 337, 
339, 342, 346, 352-353, 360, 364, 
375, 382, 392-393, 423, 427, 460, 
470 

Thapar, Gen. Pran Nath, 4, 68-69, 73, 
86-87, 93, 96, 113, 132, 191, 198- 
199, 211, 213, 229, 234-235, 245- 
246, 250, 327, 346, 351-352, 425- 
428, 444, 460, 468 

Thimayya, Gen. K. S., 46-55, 61, 67, 
73-74, 87-89, 425, 452, 458 
Third Five-Year Plan, 77 
Thoma, Gen. Ritter von, 350 
Thompson, Brig., 64-65 
Thonglen, 126, 128 
Thorat, Lt.-Gen. S. P. P„ 60-61, 67, 
73-74 

Tibet, 6-18, 20-21, 36-37, 40, 43, 49, 
64-66, 77, 96, 116, 132, 150, 152- 
153, 210, 376, 404, 444, 449, 489, 
490, 491 

Tibet (Inner), 10-11 
Tibet (Outer), 10-11, 147 
Times of India, 50, 348, 406 
Times of London, 269, 329, 423 
Time Magazine, 406 
Tithwal, 475 
Tobruk, 350 

Towang, 1, 44, 56, 58-59, 61, 65-66, 
72, 98, 103, 107, 110-119, 121-123, 



506 


HIMALAYAN BLUNDER 


125-126, 128-129, 132-134, 139- 
140, 144, 154, 160, 165-168, 173- 

176, 178, 181-184, 186, 189-192, 195- 
198, 201, 203, 214, 224-226, 263-265, 
270, 290, 316, 345-346, 367, 373, 
387-388, 497 

Towang Monastery, 1 16 

Tsangdhar, 138, 172, 208-209, 219, 
239-241, 253, 263-265, 267, 271- 
272, 274, 276-278, 286, 294, 308, 
315-317, 319, 321-322, 324, 326, 
330, 339, 341, 355, 361-362, 364, 
366-367, 372-375, 381-382, 421 
Tsangle, 207, 234, 238-239, 275, 278- 
280, 296, 298, 325-328, 332, 334, 
336-339, 345, 352, 354-355, 360-361 
365-367, 371, 373, 443, 467 
Tseng-Jong, 185, 240, 275, 276, 278- 
279, 287, 290, 291, 294, 297-299, 
301, 314, 318, 329, 337 
Tsona Dzong, 66, 153 
Tuchman, Mrs. Barbara, 295 
Tunis, 191 

Tunku Abdul Rehman, 482 
Tyagi, Mabavir, 451-452 

Umrao Singh, Lt.-Gcn., 69, 137, 170, 

177, 181, 185, 192-193, 195, 227- 
228, 232-233, 239-242, 245-246, 248- 
256, 258-259, 261, 264, 267, 271, 
274, 277, 327, 331 

United Kingdom (also Britain), 9, 32- 
33, 87, 452, 454. 478, 479, 480, 490, 
495 

United Nations, 7, 13-14, 21, 23, 26, 
30, 157, 404, 427, 467, 494, 495 
United Nations Genera'l Assembly, 13, 
157 


United Nations Peace Force, Cyprus, 
53 

United Nations Security Council 30. 
33 

United States of America (also 
America) 25-27, 32-34, 404, 478- 
480, 487, 490, 495 
U.S.S.R. (see Soviet Union) 

Uttar Pradesh, 21, 224, 449, 495 

Vagta, Alfred, 248 

Venna, Lt.-Gen. S. D., 73-74, 83, 86- 
88, 96, 102 
Viet Minh, 19 
Vietingboff, Gen., 202 

Walong, 36, 145, 224, 256, 324 
Warangal, 19, 493 
War Office (London), 410-411 
Washington, 89, 478 
Wellington, Duke of, 225 
Wellington (South India), 15 
Whitehall, 410 
Williams, Sqn.-Leader, 317 
Wingate, Gen. Orde, 16 
Wolfe, Gen., 206, 235 
Wujc (Bara Hoti), 21 

Yatung, 20, 495 
Yol, 165, 178, 439 
Younghusband, Col. 9 
Younghusbahd Expedition, 9 
Yumtsola, 211-212, 276, 285-286, 289, 
290, 293-294, 301-302 

Ziminthaung, 130-131, 272, 284, 317- 
319, 324, 365, 367, 383 
Zomdorf, Battle of, 379